After the Trump administration instituted a policy that separated and traumatized thousands of migrant families at the U.S. border, the SPLC and its allies sued the U.S government over the policy.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two immigrant parents separated from their children by immigration officials at the U.S. border, describes how the government deliberately terrorized these families by separating them under this policy, which began in 2017. The policy itself was a callous attempt to deter future migrants from entering the United States.
A report released by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in September 2019 confirmed that intense trauma was common among children who entered the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities in 2018 and in particular among those who were suddenly separated from their parents. It also found children separated from their families “exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress than did children who were not separated.”
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 of 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 even failed to implement a tracking system to ensure that families could be reunited.
In addition to the harm caused by being separated from their fathers, the two children represented by this lawsuit suffered abuse while in the custody of ORR, the agency tasked with safeguarding unaccompanied children. The fathers went weeks without knowing their children’s whereabouts, terrified that they would never see them again. These fathers, like other parents, were pressured either to abandon their right to seek asylum or risk permanent separation from their children. The children continue to suffer from nightmares, separation anxiety and behavioral problems.
The lawsuit comes after administrative claims were filed for these families in April 2019, a necessary first step before filing the lawsuit.