Thousands of migrant children and parents were “cruelly and inhumanely” separated by the Trump administration, with several parents having tried to kill themselves and at least one dying by suicide, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The suffering and trauma inflicted on these little children and parents is horrific,” Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead attorney 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 lawsuit, filed in federal court in Arizona, names current and former Trump administration officials and claims the government violated the rights of the separated migrant families. The ACLU said the suit, which is seeking damages for the families, covers families separated from 2017 to the present day.
In addition to violating their rights, the separations left families highly traumatized, the ACLU said.
“Traumatized children were not provided any meaningful treatment to address the fear, isolation and abandonment they experienced or the lasting effects of their separation and confinement," the lawsuit said.
The ACLU and other attorneys are representing several migrant families and are seeking class-action status.
One little boy, Andrés, then 6, “was torn kicking and screaming from the arms of his father,” Jacinto, the lawsuit said, as the father struggled to tell the guards about his son’s heart murmur.
Jacinto was later deported without Andrés, and the two remained separated for almost 10 months, according to the lawsuit.
A little girl named Diana, then 7, fell asleep in a holding facility only to wake and find that her father, Jorge, “had been taken away in the night without a chance to say goodbye,” the lawsuit said.
Karina, then 13, was separated from her mother, Lorena, on Christmas Day and “kept handcuffed to control her as her mother was taken away,” the lawsuit said. The pair were separated for 16 months “without any regard for her pre-existing mental health issues,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit claims the migrants’ rights were violated under the Fourth Amendment for unreasonable seizure of children, the Fifth Amendment due process clause, and equal protection. The suit is seeking damages and the formation of a recovery fund to provide mental health services for the families.
The Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services did not immediately return requests for comment. The Department of Homeland Security said it was policy to not comment on pending litigation.
The Trump administration had defended the policy as part of its ongoing mission to restrict the number of Central American families coming to the U.S. border. But with intense criticism mounting from both sides of the political aisle, Trump signed an order in June 2018 stopping his separation policy.
Days later, a federal judge ordered a nationwide injunction blocking the policy and ordering the reunification of thousands of families. That suit has expanded to include families separated before the official policy was announced and remains ongoing.