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New lawsuit challenges Trump administration over family separation

The legal case is one of a relatively small number of court challenges to the Trump policy, which has unleashed a political firestorm in recent days. | John Moore/Getty Images

A Guatemalan woman seeking asylum alleges her 7-year-old son was taken from her in May.

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A Guatemalan woman who was separated from her 7-year-old son after crossing the border from Mexico last month filed a new lawsuit on Tuesday challenging the Trump administration’s practice of splitting up immigrant families even when an adult claims asylum.

The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, demands the immediate release of the boy, an order prohibiting U.S. authorities from separating the pair, and a money award of damages for pain and suffering over the episode.

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The legal case is one of a relatively small number of court challenges to the Trump policy, which has unleashed a political firestorm in recent days.

The new suit was brought on behalf of Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, who says she crossed the border with her son near San Luis, Arizona, sometime around May 19. Mejia-Mejia immediately requested asylum “based on the severe violence and threats of death that she was experiencing in Guatemala, including violence and threats of death from her husband toward both” Mejia-Mejia and her son, according to the legal complaint.

About two days later, the boy was taken away from the holding cell where the pair were kept, the suit contends.

“He was screaming and crying and did not want to be taken away from his mother. That was the last time [Mejia-Mejia] saw her son,” the suit alleges.

Mejia-Mejia’s suit says she was later moved to an immigration detention center in Eloy, Arizona, where she was eventually told that her son was being held in Phoenix. The mother and son had one phone conversation in which he was “crying and scared,” the complaint says, adding that they’ve not seen each other for the past four weeks.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action suit in February in federal court in San Diego over similar issues of family separation among individuals seeking asylum. The group asked for a preliminary injunction in March. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw heard arguments on that request last month.

Sabraw has not yet ruled on the motion for an injunction, but did issue an order about two weeks ago rejecting the Trump administration’s request to dismiss the ACLU’s suit.

While Mejia-Mejia’s suit is framed as a challenge to the Trump administration’s family separation policy and mentions Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” directive in April calling for all illegal border crossers to be prosecuted, it’s not clear that she was affected by that aspect of the policy. The suit gives no indication that the Guatemalan native was subject to criminal charges for coming into the U.S. “She was never indicted for illegal entry to the U.S.,” the complaint says.

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The mother was released on bond last week but still has not been able to locate her son, according to the legal filing.

Justice Department spokespeople declined comment on the new suit, which was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.

An attorney for Mejia-Mejia, John Shoreman, also did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article.

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