The Trump administration’s family separation policy resulted in thousands of traumatized children and parents who were “cruelly and inhumanely separated from each other,” according to a lawsuit filed against the administration Thursday.
The lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union covers families separated at the southern border from 2017 through the present.
“The suffering and trauma inflicted on these little children and parents is horrific,” Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead lawyer in the family separation lawsuit, said in a statement. “Tragically, it could take years for these families to heal. Some may never recover, but we are fighting to give them a chance.”
The suit was filed in federal court in Arizona, and names several current and former Trump administration officials as defendants, including: former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former White House Chief of Staff and Homeland Security Director John Kelly; White House adviser Stephen Miller; and both the current and former directors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The lawsuit alleges that “thousands of children, including many two years old or younger, have been torn from their parents’ arms with little or no warning. In many cases, no explanations were given as to why they were being separated, and no answers were provided as to where the children were taken.”
According to the lawsuit, children were sent to facilities hundreds or thousands of miles away from their parents. Many children and parents did not see each other again for a year or more, the suit alleges.
The ACLU is representing multiple children and families from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who were separated along the border in Arizona for up to 16 months. Attorneys are seeking class-action status for the case.
The lawsuit describes the conditions experienced by children as young as 6, and their parents, once they crossed into the U.S. and were taken into custody. In many instances, the lawsuit alleges parents were tricked into signing removal documents they couldn’t understand.
In one example, a 7-year-old girl named Diana woke up to find her father gone. He had been taken away from their holding facility in the middle of the night without being given a chance to say goodbye.
In another example, CBP officers dragged 7-year-old Andrés “kicking and screaming” from the arms of his father, Jacinto. An officer told Jacinto that his son now “belonged to Trump.”
Jacinto was eventually deported back to Honduras, and his son was sent to a foster family in New York. According to the lawsuit, they remained separated for 10 months.
In addition to damages, the lawsuit seeks the creation of a fund to pay for professional mental health services for affected families.
The lawsuit cites violations of the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable seizure of children), the Fifth Amendment due process clause and equal protection.
Administration officials had touted the “zero tolerance” policy as a way to deter migrants from crossing into the U.S. with their children. The policy resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents at the southern border in just six weeks, before it was rescinded last June amid a massive public backlash.
A ruling by a federal judge in San Diego forced the administration to reunite many of the children who were separated under the policy, but that lawsuit has since expanded to include people separated even before the policy took effect.