Things That Matter

Migrant Families Separated At The US Border Are Suing The Government Over Their Inhumane Separation Policy

The ACLU has recently filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of five migrant families and their children, who the lawsuit says were “torn from their parents’ arms with little or no warning.” The suit alleges that the U.S. government “cruelly and inhumanely separated” children from their parents in Arizona and along the U.S. border, and by doing so, is culpable in the trauma inflicted on the families. The lawsuit details the unimaginable trauma that these families during several months in federal custody in 2018. 

Karina, who was just 13 years old at the time, was forcibly separated from her mother on Christmas Day. Karina was so devastated, she was handcuffed as a means to control her while her mother was taken away. They didn’t see each other again for 16 months. They’re telling their stories in the hope that it will help all families who were forcibly separated to gain reparations from the government. 

Seven-year-old Diana fell asleep in a detention center and woke up to find her father, Jorge, was taken away without a chance to say goodbye.

Credit: @NickMiroff / Twitter

Diana and Jorge fled Honduras after their family had been “subjected to death threats, intimidation, and violence,” according to the suit. Last June, the two arrived on U.S. soil and immediately turned themselves in to CBP and asked for asylum. They were immediately taken to a concrete cell that was “filthy and smelled of urine,” court documents read. They were given Mylar emergency blankets and no other mats, pillows or blankets. Children slept on benches while parents slept on the concrete floor. 

Around midnight, a CBP officer took Jorge out of the cell. Jorge assumed it was to ask him some questions and that he’d return to his daughter. The officer put cuffs on his wrists and ankles and escorted him to a detention facility, with no chance to say goodbye. Jorge begged for answers on what would happen to his daughter, but the officer ignored him. When they finally reunited, Diana didn’t hug her father back. She had become attached to her social worker. Months later, Diana is suffering from severe separation anxiety. The two are still pursuing asylum.

Beatriz was three years old when she saw ICE “violently remove a child from her mother,” court documents read. Then ICE took her away from her father.

Credit: @MelissaGomez004 / Twitter

When a mother refused to give up her child, four CBP officers tried to forcibly take the child from her. One officer repeatedly “struck the woman with his hands,” the suit states. Beatriz clung tighter to her father, who knew he would face violence if he didn’t let her go. Her father was deported without her. Beatriz would be taken thousands of miles away to New York and be assigned to a caretaker who would physically abuse her while she was in federal custody. When Beatriz was deported five months after her father, he noticed a scar on her back and bruises on her legs. She said a woman hit her with the “hard part of a belt,” according to the suit. The two are currently living in Santa Isabel, Guatemala, and struggling. Beatriz almost entirely lost her ability to speak Mam, the Mayan language her family speaks. After reunification, the suit states Beatriz was “was uncomfortable being around
her parents after they were reunited, almost as if they were strangers to her.”

Andrés, then 6 years old, kicked and screamed as he was pulled from the arms of his father, Jacinto.

Credit: @JoyceWhiteVance / Twitter

Jacinto tried to tell the guards that Andrés had a heart murmur but the suit alleges the guards were “uninterested.” The suit alleges that one officer told Jacinto that his son now “belonged to Trump.” When Jacinto wept in his cell, without his son, another officer mocked him for crying “like a little girl,” court documents state. Jacinto was deported while Andrés remained in U.S. custody. They wouldn’t see each other again for another ten months.  Meanwhile, Andrés was put into foster care where his caretakers asked him to call them “Mom” and “Dad.” When they were reunited over a year later, things were different. Andrés cries more often, has a shorter temper and struggles to be apart from Jacinto. The two are currently seeking asylum.

The suit alleges that family separation would invariably produce trauma and that the U.S. did not offer any mental health services to those families.

Credit: @peterdaou / Twitter

The suit is alleging that the trauma was intentional as a means to deter Central American families from even seeking asylum. According to the suit, U.S. officials who ordered that the family separation policy goes into effect “destroyed families
to inflict severe pain on Central American immigrants, hoping that this would cause them
to abandon their asylum cases and deter other Central Americans from seeking asylum or
other immigration relief in the United States.” One parent traumatized by the family separation policy died by suicide. 

If the families win the lawsuit, reparations could be made to all families affected by family separation.

Credit: @fams2gether / Twitter

The suit isn’t just trying to share traumatic stories. It’s trying to illustrate how a single event has broken families, even after reunification. Nearly all families have been reunited, but the symptoms of PTSD live on. Parents are scarred from being forcibly deprived of protecting their children from their own PTSD and continue to suffer from “fear and anxiety, trouble sleeping,
nightmares, painful headaches, and dizzy spells, and other symptoms,” according to the suit.

Winning would be a huge win to Latinos, who the suit alleges were racially targeted by President Trump. More than 95 percent of the class action plaintiffs are from Central America.

READ: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Got Real Emotional In Episode About Undocumented Immigrants And Family Separation

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