SWEC Sues to Block Family Separation Policy

Tornillo, TX immigration "tent city" detention facility. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/ for the San Antonio Express-News.
The Southwest Environmental Center (“SWEC”) announced today the filing of a lawsuit to enjoin the Trump Administration’s Family Separation and Detention Policy. The suit argues that the Family Detention Policy is illegal because the government refused to provide the public with notice and the opportunity to comment on the policy before it was adopted, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

The lawsuit explains that, in addition to causing grave harm to migrant children and families, the Family Detention Policy is irreparably harming the communities and environment of the Southwest by causing the construction of new detention facilities and “tent cities” along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Trump Administration has already constructed one facility to hold children forcibly separated from their parents in Tornillo, Texas, southeast of El Paso. Another facility—which could house up to 15,000 individuals—is currently being planned for Fort Bliss, and could be located next to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

“Any time you have a tent city or a detention facility of that size, the surrounding community and landscape is going to be affected,” explained Kevin Bixby, founder and executive director of SWEC. “There will be buses bringing people back and forth that will create air pollution and noise. The noise, light and activity will disturb wildlife and disrupt their behavior and movement patterns. The construction itself will destroy habitat and scar the landscape. We are raising our voice and saying: our community has had enough. We don’t want to see further militarization of our region. We don’t want to see kids imprisoned here. It’s wrong and it hurts our community and environment.”

David Baake, the attorney representing SWEC in the lawsuit, explained that the harm caused by the Family Detention Policy could be traced to the government’s failure to comply with procedural requirements established by law. “The Administrative Procedure Act is very clear that the government must conduct a notice-and-comment rulemaking before it can issue a major policy like this. There’s a good reason for that. Allowing public input ensures that the final policy has democratic legitimacy, and that the affected communities can raise their concerns and have them considered. In this case, the Trump Administration refused to listen to our community, and rushed forward with a policy that is wrong and unnecessary.”

SWEC is asking the Court to stop the government from implementing the Family Detention Policy or constructing any new detention facilities until it complies with the procedures required by law. Ultimately, SWEC hopes the Trump Administration will drop the policy. A number of community leaders lent their support to the lawsuit. State Representative Joanne Ferrari, Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett, and Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez each submitted a declaration explaining how the Family Detention Policy was harming the community.

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For more information about SWEC v. Sessions, please contact David Baake at david.baake@gmail.com.