An 8-year-old girl was separated from her pregnant mother kept four days at a U.S. detention center.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they had to transfer the Honduran woman Oct. 18 because she was potentially disruptive, having twice resisted attempts to deport her.
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said guards and ICE staff watched over the child after her mother was removed from the facilty, which houses families accused of entering the United States illegally but are charged with no other crimes.
Rusnok said such family separations are rare.
People who want the facility closed, saying it puts children in prison-like conditions, said the girl was put at risk.
"Here, it's the government itself that has the custody of this child and then leaves her without proper supervision," said Denise Gilman, who oversees the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, which provides legal services to the detainees. "We certainly don't want to see it happen again."
The 28-year-old mother and child lost a bid for asylum. They were reunited when they were sent back to Honduras. Immigration Clinic attorneys plan to file a complaint with the U.S. government.
The woman's sister, Irma Banegas of Texas, said her sister and niece fled Honduras earlier this year to escape an abusive relationship and growing gang violence in that country, including attacks that broke her sister's ribs and left her with scars. She asked that her sister and niece not be named because of concerns for their safety.
An unrelated lawsuit over conditions at the detention facilty was settled in August. Immigration officials agreed to changes including privacy curtains around toilets, a full-time pediatrician and the dropping of rules that required families to be in their cells 12 hours a day.