Honduran woman and her child sue Obama administration over 'inhumane' detention

Suny Rodriguez Alvarado, left; Angelo, middle; Jose Rafael Sanchez Villatoro, right.

Suny Rodriguez Alvarado, left; Angelo, middle; Jose Rafael Sanchez Villatoro, right.  (Courtesy of Urban Justice Center)

An Honduran woman is suing the Obama administration over alleged mistreatment that she and her child suffered while held in a family detention center in Dilley, Texas.

The woman, Suny Rodriguez Alvarado, filed the lawsuit – on which her then-7-year-old son also is a plaintiff – in federal court in New Jersey. Alvarado, who is 43, was kept in detention for more than four months last year.

The suit is believed to be the first of its kind to seek damages for harm suffered in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention while seeking refugee status.

A release about the lawsuit reads, “Suny Rodriguez Alvarado and her 7-year-old son, Angelo, left their home in Honduras because of persistent threats of police violence, only to be subjected to prolonged detention, coercion and abuse by Department of Homeland Security officials.”

In an interview with Fox News Latino, Rodriguez said that her son remains traumatized from his time in detention.

The lawsuit alleges that border officials tried to coerce Rodriguez to sign a document agreeing to be returned to Honduras, in violation of U.S. law on how people who express a fear of persecution if they return to their homeland and request to apply for asylum are supposed to be treated. 

It also alleges that a border agent denied Rodriguez food and told her that it was futile of her to have entered the United States, suggesting that she would face worse persecution than she had in Honduras.

Additionally, the suit claims that officials withheld asthma medication for Angelo.

“He’s been very affected,” Rodriguez said about her son, who later was granted political asylum. Rodriguez has been granted a temporary protection from deportation while her status is determined and an authorization to work in the United States.

“My son has flashbacks. He’s deeply afraid every time we have to go to the immigration agency for something,” she said in Spanish. “When we were in detention, he would get bad anxiety. He cried a lot and always asked, ‘Why are they like that? They shouldn’t treat us like that. Tell them not to deport us.’”

Rodriguez said it was particularly painful for her to watch her son fight a constant cough and fatigue because of his asthma and not be able to obtain the medication he required.

The lawsuit claims, “Plaintiffs experienced inhumane conditions that fell below [Custom and Border Protection’s] own minimum standards for operation of its facilities at the first holding facility, known as the ‘icebox.’”

“CBP agents detained plaintiffs in a crowded room with a wet floor and cement blocks for seats,” it continues. “Other detainees had taken all the seats, so Ms. Rodriguez requested a blanket for her asthmatic son to sleep on so that he would not have to sleep directly on the wet floor. CBP agents told her that could not have anything because she was not in her own country.”

The Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School is representing Rodriguez in the lawsuit. It accuses the Obama administration of flouting court rulings that denounce detaining children for long periods of time. The complaint says the Obama administration resorted to the harsh approach in an attempt to deter other Central Americans from entering the U.S. illegally.

As with many immigration cases, Rodriguez’s isn't simple.

She lived in the United States without documentation in late 1990s and received Temporary Protected States after Hurricane Mitch devastated many parts of Honduras in 1998. She traveled back to Honduras in 2006 after her mother and stepfather were killed by Honduran police.

According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez was threatened by the Honduran police and fled to the United States in 2014 with her son and his father, José Rafael Sánchez Villatoro. They were returned to Mexico, but confronted by threats and violence again, returned to the United States the next year. They were detained with Sánchez Villatoro held in a separate facility.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.