A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday preventing the U.S. government from deporting a Honduran woman who has been detained with her 15-year-old daughter at a Texas facility for six months.
The order by U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss came after an immigration judge denied the mother’s request to reopen her immigration case. The daughter still has a case for asylum pending.
The mother’s lawyers requested the temporary restraining order, saying that they feared Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) might deport the woman before they could appeal the immigration judge’s ruling after Christmas, leaving the teenager alone in U.S. custody.
Shalyn Fluharty, who is managing attorney of the Dilley Pro Bono Project and representing the mother and daughter, said the teen has tried to take her own life at least once in detention and that she needs her mother.
“Her psychological well-being is in a critical state,” Fluharty said.
The mother and daughter initially were allowed out of detention while their immigration cases proceeded, but ICE detained them both in June. The daughter had her 15th birthday in detention last week.
The facility in the South Texas city of Dilley, which has a capacity of 2,400, is used by ICE to hold mothers and daughters together. Fluharty said she’d never heard of anyone being detained at Dilley for six months. An agreement known as the Flores settlement bars the prolonged detention of immigrant children.
Fluharty said the teen and her mother have feared she would be sexually assaulted or killed if sent back to Honduras.
However, if the mother were deported and the daughter kept in the U.S., the teen likely would be placed in a government facility for unaccompanied minors. That’s what happened with hundreds of children earlier this year after their parents were deported under a zero-tolerance immigration policy that led to large-scale family separations.
More than 14,000 minors were in government custody last week, many in large, crowded facilities that pediatricians and mental health experts have criticized as unsuitable for children.
“That choice is fundamentally unfair and should never be posed to a child,” Fluharty said.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who has visited several facilities in Texas to call attention to immigration detention, met with the detained Honduran mother during a visit to Dilley and has called attention to her and her daughter’s case.
Merkley questioned whether the U.S. government was using the threat of deporting the mother to force the teen to give up her own asylum case.
“This is a form of psychological pressure,” Merkley said Monday. “We need to have the best interest of the child in mind, and that means not separating her from the mother and not keeping her in prison.”
Fluharty said she planned to appeal the mother’s case Wednesday after the government holiday for Christmas. It’s unclear whether immigration courts will be open due to the partial government shutdown that began Saturday.
A spokeswoman for ICE said the agency could not comment on the case due to the shutdown. The Justice Department did not return messages seeking comment Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.