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Federal Lawsuit Seeks Damages for Traumatized Migrant Families Torn Apart by Trump Administration’s Separation Policy

PHOENIX – The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Covington & Burling, and Coppersmith Brockelman filed an amended federal lawsuit today adding four additional migrant families to the filing who were separated from their children by immigration officials at the U.S. border. The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for the families, who were targeted by a Trump administration policy that separated and traumatized thousands of migrant families. 
“The Trump administration implemented this policy knowing full well the devastating impact it would have on these young children and their parents. The children and their parents will bear the scars of this cruelty for the rest of their lives” said Norma Ventura, SPLC Legal Fellow. “The government must be held accountable for the sake of these families and to ensure this sort of cruelty is not repeated.” 
The plaintiffs, referred to by pseudonyms in the amendment to protect them, include families who presented themselves at a port of entry and were separated for as long as eight months. The plaintiffs also now include three fathers who were deported and are now fighting for justice from the countries they once fled. The lawsuit details the devastating impact of their separations and the lasting trauma they will endure.

  • Mario was separated from his son, then 7 years old, after they presented themselves at a port of entry seeking asylum in late 2017. For weeks, Mario tried in vain to get information about his son, Antonio, who had been flown to a facility thousands of miles away. The family was separated for more than eight months, during which time Mario was deported without his son. The family remains traumatized.
  • Rolando was forcibly separated from his 9-year-old daughter, Bertha, after they presented themselves at a port of entry seeking asylum in late 2017. The complaint states that Bertha was beaten by an immigration officer after the separation because she could not stop crying. Rolando was deported without Bertha, who continued to suffer in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for another seven months after her father was deported. Even after being reunited, the family remains traumatized. 
  • After being forcibly separated, Heriberto and his 6-year-old daughter, Alicia, remained apart for around three and a half months. Heriberto agreed to deportation after officers told him that Alicia would be deported with him. But Heriberto was deported alone, while Alicia was kept in ORR custody in the United States for nearly three more months, during which time she suffered severe anxiety and emotional distress. Both father and child remain traumatized. 
  • Joel was separated from his daughter, Mariela, then 11 years old, for around two months after they arrived in the United States seeking asylum. Officers initially refused to tell Joel where his daughter was. Joel and Mariela were not able to speak for a month. Joel and Mariela remain traumatized by the experience. 

The original plaintiffs—José and Abel and their minor children—remain in the lawsuit. These fathers were separated from their young children for more than 10 weeks, during which time the children experienced abuse while in ORR custody. The families continue to suffer.
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 deterring future migration, the government tore immigrant children from their parents, sent those children thousands of miles away from their parents, refused to inform parents and children of each other’s whereabouts or well-being, and refused to provide adequate means for them to talk with each other. The Trump administration, ORR, and ICE even failed to implement a tracking system to ensure that families could be reunited. 
“The government has refused to acknowledge that its family separation policy was wrong and that tearing young children away from their parents causes enormous short- and long-term pain and suffering,” added Terra Fulham of Covington & Burling. “This lawsuit is designed to obtain compensation to help mitigate the harms our clients and their families have suffered, and to hold the government accountable for the lasting trauma it intentionally inflicted on these families.”
The SPLC also worked closely with Justice in Motion, an organization that through its network of human rights defenders has facilitated the painstaking work of identifying parents deported to Central America without their children, and that has assisted in the reunifications. 
“These families continue to suffer trauma, as a result of the gross mistreatment by our government,” said Justice in Motion Executive Director Cathleen Caron. “We stand with these families as they seek justice for the harms they have suffered at the hands of the administration.”
The filing comes after the government failed to respond to administrative claims on behalf of these families over the past year. 
More information on these families and the effort to seek justice for them can be seen here: The filing can be viewed HERE