March 9 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit Friday against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying agents are forcibly removing asylum-seeking parents from their children without reason.
The class-action suit adds onto a pending suit ACLU has already filed to try and reunite a mother and 7-year-old daughter from the Democratic Republic of Congo who sought asylum in the U.S. and were later detained separately, the organization said. After the ACLU filed that suit, government officials released the mother, the organization said.
Lee Gelerny, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement that their separate detentions are indicative of a widespread policy at ICE.
"Whether or not the Trump administration wants to call this a 'policy,' it certainly is engaged in a widespread practice of tearing children away from their parents," Gelernt said. "A national class-action lawsuit is appropriate because this is a national practice."
The class-action suit, which names U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services among other defendants, claims hundreds of parents have been forcibly separated from their children without reason.
In the suit, the ACLU argued that the parents "have since been separated from their children without any allegation or showing that they present a danger to their child; none have been given a fair process in which to contest any allegations that they are an unfit parent."
In an email to NPR, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said the agency doesn't "currently have a policy of separating women and children. However, we retain the authority to do so in certain circumstances -- particularly to protect a child from potential smuggling and trafficking activities."
"We ask that members of the public and media view advocacy group claims that we are separating women and children for reasons other than to protect the child with the level of skepticism they deserve," the spokesperson said.