(CNN) –– In a last-ditch effort, days before possibly facing deportation, a group of immigrant children in federal custody turned to President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden and Congress for help.
“We think America had a history of respecting the law and the well-being of children. In our experience, the government has not only subjected us to unfair and illegal processes. He has also tortured us by keeping us in custody for so long, ”wrote two girls held at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in South Texas.
“We only ask that our right to seek asylum and the opportunity to be safe with our mothers be respected,” they added.
The two girls who wrote the letter are 14 and 15 years old, according to advocates who represent them. They asked to remain anonymous to protect the safety of their families, the lawyers added. The letter, they said, is written on behalf of 28 children and their families who are being held at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania. (Read the full letter in English here).
Advocates indicated that the message was sent to Trump, Biden and members of Congress this week. Precisely, they pointed out, as part of a push to raise awareness about the cases. An accompanying letter signed by more than 60 organizations – including Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and Kids in Need of Defense – asked officials to give children and their families the opportunity to apply for asylum. In addition, he requested that legislators step in and pass a bill to help them if necessary.
“It would be fundamentally unfair to deport these children based on rules and policies that have since been declared illegal,” the organizations wrote.
According to the representing attorneys, the families were prevented from seeking asylum under a Trump administration policy, which was later blocked in federal court. The policy is known as the asylum transit ban. Precisely, it prohibited immigrants from seeking asylum if they had traveled through other countries on their way to the United States. The courts have repeatedly ruled against the policy. However, a federal judge said last week that he had no jurisdiction to stop ICE from deporting the families.
“The court is not pleased with this decision,” said US District Judge Jon S. Tigar. And he noted that the cases of the families are “deeply disturbing” but that the court “respects the limitations of its jurisdiction established by Congress.”
Attorneys representing the children and their families appealed that ruling. Additionally, the government agreed not to deport the families until Nov. 21, according to court documents.
When ICE was asked why the families were not allowed to apply for asylum, a spokeswoman said they have no “legal basis” to remain in the United States.
“All the families have been part of a series of lawsuits against the government, as well as appeals, and they continue to file new lawsuits. All of whom have delayed their retirement and prolonged their detention. At this time, the families have participated in extensive legal processes and it was determined that they have no legal basis to remain in the United States, “said Danielle Bennett, a spokeswoman for ICE, in a statement. “The US government provides all foreigners it withdraws access to all legal processes required by law. Those who do not have the right to help, legal protection or basis to stay in the United States will ultimately be returned to their country of origin.
The 28 children and their families are from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile and Haiti, according to the letters. Both girls write that they have been detained for more than a year at the facility. Also that they are desperate to be released and to be with other members of their family.
“We are seeing once again the detention center decorated with Christmas decorations. Meanwhile, we cannot share these holidays or our birthdays with our families, ”they wrote. “We have seen how our health continues to deteriorate day by day, how the food here hurts our stomach. All we want is to have something different to eat. We pray that the day will soon come when we do not have to live in a children’s prison, under the constant risk of being infected with covid-19, seeing that the situation worsens every day.
Organizations that defend families say that for many of the children the situation is dire.
“The consequence is really serious,” attorney Bridget Cambria told CNN. “We are talking about sending children back to places where they can die.”
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.
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