Separated Families Seek Damages for Harm Suffered Due to Trump Administration Policy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two fathers who were forcibly separated from their young children by immigration officials have filed administrative claims against the United States to seek compensation for the lasting harm caused by the Trump administration’s family separation policy. The claims, on behalf of families who will continue to suffer damage to their mental, physical and emotional health for years to come, are the latest in a series filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Covington & Burling.
“Thousands of children and parents will live with intense trauma the rest of their lives as a result of this policy, which the administration knew would leave indelible scars on these families,” said Michelle Lapointe, senior supervising attorney at the SPLC. “The government must be held accountable for its actions and it must put a stop to this practice once and for all.”
The filings detail the cruelty of both the practice of family separation and the treatment of these families while in federal custody. As has been well-documented, the intent of the family separations was to deter future migrants by deliberately subjecting immigrants in custody to harsh conditions that would ensure their suffering. The dehumanization of these families and other migrants is evident in the accounts of their treatment while in government custody.
The physical and emotional torment were so much for one of the fathers, J.D.G – who fled Guatemala with his 11-old-daughter in fear of their safety following the rape of another young family member – that he contemplated suicide. The filing describes the physical and psychological cruelty the two faced while in custody together. This included the lack of any sort of medical care while his daughter was clearly ill, the physical separation and months of uncertainty, and then the ongoing struggle as a result of the ordeal.
The other father, E.A.S.M., and his 11-year-old son also fled Guatemala after threats and an attempt on his life. The claim details the poor conditions they faced while in custody together, the torment of their forcible physical separation, the weeks of agony while separated and the ongoing impact of their ordeal.
Both claims demonstrate the devastating impact of forcible parent-child separations, which have long been known to cause significant short- and long-term damage to mental, physical and emotional health.
Despite the clear harm of separation in the name of deterrence, the government indiscriminately tore immigrant children from their parents; sent children hundreds or 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 administrative claims are the first step toward holding the government accountable for the separations and the resulting serious trauma and suffering of the affected families. If the government fails to respond within six months or rejects the claims, the families can seek damages by filing lawsuits in federal court.
“The harm inflicted on these fathers, their children and their entire families can never be undone,” said Jay Carey, a partner at Covington & Burling. “But those responsible for their pain can and must be held accountable. And a message must be sent to this Administration — which has acted in the name of the American people — that such cruelty will not be tolerated here or in any civilized society.”
During the summer of 2018, the SPLC, through its Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), worked with more than 40 families who were separated at the border and sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in Georgia and Louisiana. In addition to these claims, the SPLC and Covington & Burling have filed complaints on behalf of five other families who were separated and continue to suffer as a result.
Redacted versions of the claims can be found here:
E.A.S.M AND H.S.S.
J.D.G. and M.G.G.L
The previous filings and more information about SPLC’s work on behalf of families separated by the Trump administration can be seen here: https://www.splcenter.org/our-issues/immigrant-justice/family-separation