As One Year Anniversary of Announcement of "Zero Tolerance" Approaches
WASHINGTON, DC – Two immigrant parents and their children who were unjustly and forcibly separated by immigration officials at the border filed administrative claims against the United States seeking compensation for the harms the Trump Administration’s family separation policy caused them. The claims—filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Covington & Burling—tell of the chilling and heart-wrenching experiences of these families who were victims of the government’s inhumane separation of thousands of children from their parents with the intent to cause terror, anguish and harm, and to use that cruelty to deter future migrants from seeking to enter the United States.
Forcible parent-child separations have long been known to cause significant short- and long-term damage to mental, physical, and emotional health. Still, in the name of deterrence, the government indiscriminately tore immigrant children from their parents, sent the children thousands of miles away, refused to inform parents and children of each other’s whereabouts or well-being, refused to provide adequate means for parents and children to talk with each other, and failed to have any system for tracking the children or ensuring that families could ever be reunited. These claims are the first step toward holding the government accountable for the separations and the resulting serious trauma and suffering of the affected families.
In addition to the harm caused by being forcibly separated from their fathers, the two children suffered abuse while in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the agency tasked with safeguarding unaccompanied children. The fathers went weeks without knowing their children’s whereabouts, terrified that they would never see their children again. Like other parents, these fathers were pressured either to abandon their right to seek asylum or else risk permanent separation from their children. The children continue to suffer from nightmares, separation anxiety, and behavioral problems.
“The Trump Administration’s inhumane and unlawful family separation policy caused deep and lasting harm to children and their parents,” said Michelle Lapointe, Senior Supervising Attorney at the SPLC. “The policy was designed and implemented to inflict the maximum amount of cruelty possible on vulnerable people, like our clients. These fathers seek to hold the government accountable for the damage it deliberately caused their families. This is critical to ensuring that the government never again implements such a malicious policy.”
“The federal government’s policy of needlessly separating children from their parents at the border will forever be a significant stain on this nation’s history,” added Matt Schlesinger, a partner at Covington & Burling. “It is both obvious and well documented that tearing small children away from their parents causes enormous short- and long-term pain and suffering. Some of that damage can never be undone, and we seek compensation from responsible parties to mitigate these harms and send a message that this form of cruelty is the exception and not the norm in this country.”
A.P.F., one of the fathers who filed a claim, said, “I never dreamed that the United States would treat my son and me this way. We came looking for safety and instead, we were caged like animals. No one answered my calls for help when my son grew more and more sick. He was taken from me and I had no idea what was happening to him. When I learned that he was molested by other boys, I was sick with grief. No one deserves this cruelty.”
J.V.S., another father filing a claim, was separated from his five-year-old daughter H.Y. for over ten weeks. “It was the worst day of my life when my daughter was taken from me,” said J.V.S. “I was forced to watch while government officials lined her up with other children taken from their parents at the hielera [the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility known as the “icebox” for its freezing temperatures] and marched her out the door, not knowing if I’d ever see her again.” J.V.S. did not know his daughter’s whereabouts for several weeks after the government forcibly separated them, and he was able to talk to her only a handful of times in the over two months they were apart. While in ORR custody, H.Y. was subjected to various forms of abuse.
A.P.F. and J.V.S. were among more than 40 parents who worked with the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) last summer after being separated from their children and sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in Georgia and Louisiana.
The filings can be viewed here: