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Immigrant rights groups sue Trump Administration over planned raids

Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil

Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, speaks during a news conference outside the state Capitol in Albany in 2016. Credit: AP/Mike Groll

A coalition of immigrant rights groups sued the Trump administration Thursday in Manhattan federal court over its planned mass deportation raids, asking for individual hearings for thousands of families facing removal because they didn’t show up in immigration court.

The lawsuit says many targets of the impending raids face so-called “in absentia” deportation orders issued when they failed to show up that were the result of bureaucratic mistakes by the government in providing notification of hearings.

“For the many families who came here as refugees fleeing violence, deportation is a death threat,” said Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We will fight to ensure no one faces this kind of peril without having their case considered in court.”

President Donald Trump announced the planned raids weeks ago. After postponements, they are expected to begin Sunday in 10 cities, targeting an estimated 2,000 undocumented immigrants who crossed the border recently, according to reports published this week.

The lawsuit filed by the NYCLU and other groups says the raids will focus to a large extent, if not exclusively, on families and children anxious to seek asylum after fleeing violence in Central America, who were caught up in “chaos” produced by administration efforts to expedite hearings.

“In thousands of cases, the government mailed notices to incorrect addresses; sent them with no date or time; and set hearings for dates — including weekends — when no hearings were being held at all,” the suit said.

The lawyers said other notices arrived after a hearing or too late for families to travel to a distant location in time, and also contended the raids could be particularly onerous for children, who had no control over appearances in immigration court, but might be summarily deported.

The lawsuit is seeking a court order requiring the government to delay deportation of individuals without legal representation who arrived after 2014 on the basis of an “in absentia” order until they are brought before an immigration judge and have the opportunity to challenge removal orders based on a nonappearance and reopen their cases.

It was not assigned to a judge late Thursday. A lawyer at the civil liberties union said that once the raids begin, there will be time to seek emergency relief like a preliminary injunction before deportations actually occur.

ICE has said its enforcement actions focus on unlawfully present immigrants who pose a threat to national security, public safety or border security. An ICE spokeswoman Thursday declined to comment on the lawsuit or plans for the upcoming raids.

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