Guatemalan seeking asylum sues US to reunite with family

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In this Dec. 21, 2019 photo, Maudy Constanza, 24, of Guatemala, stands for a photograph, in Framingham, Mass. Constanza had her family divided as they tried to come to the United States to seek asylum. She and her two young daughters are in Ashland, Mass, while her husband and son were sent to Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican border town, under the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy. The ACLU is bringing a lawsuit on Constanza’s behalf against the program. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via AP)

BOSTON (AP) — A Guatemalan woman seeking asylum in Massachusetts is suing the federal government to reunite with her partner and son, who have been ordered to remain in Mexico under the Trump administration’s asylum process.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Maudy Constanza and her partner, Hanz Morales, argues the asylum policy violates constitutional due process and equal protection rights.

“United States law protects asylum seekers like Ms. Constanza, Mr. Morales, and their children,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said in the suit filed Friday in federal court in Boston. “The law forbids sending people to countries where they will be persecuted or tortured, and provides migrants with an opportunity to see an immigration judge before they may be sent to a place where they fear such persecution or torture.”

The civil rights group said the couple fled Guatemala with their three young children last year after Morales was shot four times. The family traveled together to Mexico but split up just before crossing the U.S. border in July 2019.

Constanza and the couple’s two daughters were released into the U.S. to pursue their asylum claim, but Morales and their 9-year-old son were returned to Mexico.

They are among more than 50,000 people who have been sent back to the country as a result of President Donald Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy, which took effect in January 2019.

Formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, the policy requires asylum seekers from certain Spanish-speaking nations, including Guatemala, to wait out the U.S. immigration court process in Mexico.

But while living in Mexico, Morales and his son have survived an attempted kidnapping, struggled to find food and rarely leave their home because of the violent and dangerous conditions near the border, according to the ACLU.

The organization wants a federal judge to declare the asylum policy unlawful and allow Morales and his son to await the outcome of their case in the U.S. with the rest of their family.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is named in the suit, declined to comment.

The ACLU and other groups sued last year in San Francisco federal court on behalf of 11 migrants challenging the asylum policy. An appeals court panel heard arguments in the case in October but has yet to rule.

The ACLU’s San Diego chapter has also sued the federal government over the policy, arguing that asylum-seekers should have access to an attorney before being returned to Mexico to wait.

Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

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