A mother and 5-year-old boy from Honduras who had been detained at a Berks County immigration detention facility were put on a flight Wednesday back to their native country, according to Sen. Bob Casey and an immigration attorney.
The two were among 14 "longterm" families held at the controversial Berks County Residential Center outside Reading. They had been detained at the Pennsylvania facility since Dec. 18, 2015, attorney Bridget Cambria said Wednesday afternoon.
The 14 families were all part of a court case, Castro v. Department of Homeland Security. Over two dozen families without criminal records filed habeas corpus lawsuits in November 2015 claiming that their credible fear interviews for asylum were unfair. The Supreme Court denied a petition to hear the case on April 17, and attorneys feared their clients would be subject to deportation because of the decision.
The Berks County facility is one of only three detention centers in the country for undocumented immigrant families. The other two are in Texas. The facility, which is run by the county and paid for with federal funds, was scheduled to lose its license to operate with the state of Pennsylvania. But last week, a judge overruled the state’s decision.
Cambria said she and other attorneys were arguing on behalf of the woman and her son before a federal judge on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania when they were notified that Immigration and Customs Enforcement put the two on a plane for Honduras.
"We applied for the child this week who had qualified for a special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) and brought it to ICE and the courts and we were in court today," Cambria said. "We literally were arguing to include this child while immigration was watching the plane take off."
Casey, the Pennsylvania Democrat, first tweeted about the mom and son about noon in a series of tweets in which he accused the Department of Homeland Security of sending a mother and her young child on "a plane ride that can very likely lead to their death."
He said in another tweet that "the 5yr old's mother witnessed the murder of her cousin in Honduras and was being pursued by gangs."
"They had a final order of removal but it doesn’t change the danger they are facing or that they were held for over a year and a half," Cambria said.
On Tuesday, Casey sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly urging "the immediate release" of four other undocumented mothers and their children who are also being detained at the Berks County facility.
During his Twitter streak about the Honduran mother and child, Casey also called out the Trump administration for how this deportation frames the president's immigration priorities.
The senator then appeared on MSNBC, appearing at times enraged that a woman and young boy could be sent back to one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
He said he'd talked with President Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, by phone, but that messages he left for Kelly at Homeland Security and Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE were not returned by the late afternoon.
"Still waiting for those two to call back," Casey said. "I shouldn’t have to make those calls. They shouldn’t be doing this."
He added, "Why don’t they focus on people that present a threat to us? Instead, they are pretty much letting ICE do whatever they want."
ICE, in a statement later in the evening, defended the deportation of the mother, who the agency identified. NBC10.com is only identifying the woman as Fany H. after an attorney for her said she fears for her safety in her native country.
"It's unfortunate that politicians are repeating misleading information and in the process, demonizing the men and women whose job it is to enforce the laws Congress writes," assistant director Liz Johnson said in the statement. "(H.) was removed May 3, 2017 after her claims were denied at multiple levels and she had exhausted all legal remedies available to her. (H.) sought and was afforded judicial review of her claims challenging her removal order before the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the nation’s highest courts, namely the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously denied (H.'s) Petition for Writ of Certiorari."