United States: Arnold & Porter Brings Legal Claims Against U.S. Government On Behalf Of Parents And Children Separated At The Border
Last Updated: February 13 2019

Families that endured lasting emotional and physical suffering under deliberately cruel policy seek to hold government accountable.

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 11, 2019 — Parents and their children fleeing violence or danger in their countries of origin who were torn apart under the Trump administration's family separation policy filed legal claims today against the government seeking damages for the trauma they've suffered due to this cruel treatment. Arnold & Porter is representing these two families pro-bono, working with the Texas Civil Rights Project, and is also representing other families in legal claims related to the administration's family separation policy.

The families each seek $6 million from the government for its intentional infliction of emotional distress on them. The claims, filed with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, detail the excruciating suffering these mothers and children experienced as a result of the administration's policy to separate migrant families upon entering the United States – a policy that senior government officials have confirmed was intentionally cruel so as to deter migrants from seeking refuge in the U.S.

In their claims, the parents describe the harrowing circumstances of their children being taken from them. Both parents filing claims today were given little information as to where their children were taken and were provided little-to-no updates on the whereabouts of their children for much of their separation, which lasted months.

The children suffered similar trauma. Like their parents, they were given no information about when or if they would ever be reunited. A 14-year-old boy continues to suffer from severe anxiety and sadness after being separated from his father for five and a half months. His father was unable to sleep during their separation and continues to experience severe stomach pain today. A boy who turned 18 while separated from his mother continues to experience regular episodes of depression. His mother continues to suffer from severe anxiety, difficulty sleeping and headaches as a result of their separation.

"These children and their parents have experienced horrific, life-altering trauma that was intentionally inflicted on them by our government," said Stanton Jones, a partner at Arnold & Porter. "These families fled threatening and violent circumstances in their countries of origin only to face cruel treatment by detention officials and separation across thousands of miles. No amount of money can undo the damage inflicted by our government on these boys and their parents, but the government must be held accountable for the impact of its policies."

"Last year, we saw the government manufacture a crisis by cruelly and needlessly separating families. Most came to this country to seek asylum. Instead they encountered a living nightmare," said Efrén C. Olivares, racial and economic justice director at the Texas Civil Rights Project. "We spoke to desperate parents who didn't know where their children were for months, let alone what kind of care their terrified kids were receiving or if they would ever see them again. It is clear the government deported many parents without ever having plans to reunite them with their children – just as it had no intention of reunifying any of the families it tore apart. They may be reunited now, but the trauma our government inflicted on vulnerable families, like our clients, will haunt them for a lifetime, and for that, they deserve to be compensated."

While serving as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly stated that he "would do almost anything to deter people from Central America" from migrating to the United States, including separating children from their parents. After the forced separations began, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed that the goal was deterrence. In May 2018, Kelly callously dismissed any concern about the government's forced separation of a child from her mother, remarking, "[T]he children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever."

In total, the U.S. government has admitted to separating more than 2,700 children from their parents or guardians after they crossed the southwestern U.S. border. And recent reports indicate that the number of families separated may have been much higher.

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