A group of five mothers and children who were ripped apart under the inhumane “zero tolerance” policy have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, seeking compensatory damages for the lifelong, “extraordinary trauma” inflicted on both them and their children, who were as young as five years old when they were forcibly separated by federal immigration officials.
In the lawsuit filed Thursday by Arnold & Porter, Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin, the American Immigration Council, and the National Immigrant Justice Center, mothers said “they received no information as to where the government sent their children and were provided minimal information on their whereabouts for much of their separation, which lasted months in all cases. The mothers were left in agony, believing they would never see their children again.”
Claims filed by the mothers in February had previously offered a gut-wrenching glimpse into the human costs of this barbaric policy. Mom “L.G.” followed the rules by going to a U.S. port of entry to ask for asylum, only to have her daughter, “B.G.,” stolen from her by border agents for two months. While they were overjoyed to be reunited, B.G. now “cannot sleep unless her mother holds her,” and can’t go outside because she’s afraid something will happen to her.
A report from the Health and Human Services inspector general confirmed that the policy inflicted “fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress” on separated children, some of whom believed “their parents had abandoned them,” or that their parents had somehow been killed, and that they would be killed too. One child, the report said, “ultimately required emergency psychiatric care to address his mental health distress.”
While a federal judge in June 2018 ordered the administration to end this inhumane policy and reunite stolen kids with their families, border officials have exploited a loophole in that ruling and separated an additional 1,000 children. The American Civil Liberties Union, which initially sued to end the policy, is returning to court to demand an end to additional separations. No amount of money can undo this traumatic damage, but this administration must be held accountable.
“Under the family separation policy, immigration officers took children from their parents, flew children to shelters across the country, and failed for weeks to tell the parents where their children were or how they were doing,” said Erik Walsh, an attorney with Arnold & Porter. “This conduct was illegal, and this lawsuit now seeks to hold the government accountable for the severe and lasting trauma it intentionally inflicted on these families.