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Migrant Families Demand $18 Million From Trump Administration
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Migrant Families Demand $18 Million From Trump Administration

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USA – February 14, 2019

On Monday, six illegal immigrant families filed multi-million dollar claims against both the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services over last year’s family separations, saying they need the money to pay for counseling and other medical care to heal from the “torture” they say they suffered. The claims were filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The families are being represented by Arnold & Porter, the American Immigration Council, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin.

In June, a federal judge ordered an end to the separations and ordered the families reunited, sending the government scrambling to reconnect more than 2,000 children who had been separated from parents who, in some cases, had already been deported.

According to the claim filed, one of the claimants Elizabeth, a thirty-one-year-old Salvadoran national, entered the United States on April 27, 2018 with her twelve-year-old son, Antonio. Before leaving, Elizabeth suffered years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, including a brutal rape orchestrated by three members of a notorious gang and witnessed by Antonio. After the rape, gang members made multiple direct threats against Elizabeth and Antonio.

Upon crossing the border in California, Elizabeth and Antonio were apprehended by U.S Customs and Border Protection agents, who took them into custody at the Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station (“Imperial”). Officers informed her that because she had entered the United States illegally, she would be criminally charged and separated from her son for “days, months, or even years.”

On or around July 20, 2018, Elizabeth received a phone call from a woman who had helped care for Antonio in New York. The woman told Elizabeth that Antonio would arrive at the Miami airport the next day. To this day, Antonio continues to worry about being “arrested again,” and the possibility he will be separated from his mother. He has nightmares about his experience, and described the months-long separation from his mother as “the worst thing that has ever happened.”

Another claimant, C.M., a twenty-eight-year old Guatemalan national, entered the United States with her then-five-year-old son on or around May 9, 2018. When they crossed the border at or near San Luis, Arizona, immigration officers apprehended them and took them to a type of short-term detention center where on or around May 11, they were separated.

On or around July 26, the family was reunited. DHS finally released C.M. and B.M. from the Dilley Detention Center in November 2018, more than six months after they arrived in the United States.

After they were reunited, B.M. told his mother that he thinks she brought him to the United States to give him away. During his time in Dilley, B.M. was extremely sad and repeatedly asked his mother why they were there and why they were locked up. He had very little appetite and suffered from nightmares, according to the claim. Even today, C.M. is traumatized by the thought of her son spending his sixth birthday scared and alone.

Other claims include the story of Elena and her son Luis from Guatemala. She is thirty-five years old and Luis is thirteen years old now. In 2018, gang members repeatedly threatened them with violence and told Elena and Luis that they would kill them both if Luis did not join the gang. On or about May 8, 2018, they crossed the border into Arizona, where they were apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. While arresting Elena, an immigration officer told her that she would be separated from her son and taken to jail. A few days later, an officer told Elena that she would be deported and her son would stay in the United States, and took Luis away. On or about July 25, 2018, immigration officers told Elena that she would be leaving Eloy that day. Elena was terrified and convinced that she would be deported without her son, who was turning thirteen years old that day. She wanted badly to hug him, to comfort him, and to wish him a happy birthday.

After a long and sleepless night, at around 10 a.m., officers escorted Elena to another room, where Luis was waiting. Elena was so happy to be able to hug him again. The next day, she and Luis were transferred to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas (Dilley), where they remained until their release from immigration detention on November 30, 2018. While Elena was detained at Dilley, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moved to reopen Elena’s removal proceedings in light of pending litigation challenging the family separation policy. The immigration court subsequently reopened Elena’s case. She and Luis now live with family in Massachusetts while they await an asylum hearing.

Even after being reunited with her son, Elena continued to suffer from headaches, difficulty concentrating, and insomnia. The boy is unable to speak much with his mother about their separation or his time in detention and experiences outbursts of inexplicable anger.

Another claimant is Victoria, a twenty-three-year-old Guatemalan national, who entered the United States with her then-six-year-old son, G.A., after fleeing horrific violence and threats of violence in Guatemala. When Victoria and G.A. crossed the border from Mexicali into California, immigration officials apprehended them and brought them to a short-term detention center. Shortly after Victoria and G.A. arrived, immigration officers told Victoria that because she did not enter through an official port of entry, the U.S. government would detain her for years, take G.A. away from her, and send him to a shelter.

On or around May 14, immigration officers put Victoria and the other seventy-seven women in handcuffs and shackles and took them on a bus to another processing center in Santa Cruz, Arizona. At the processing center, officers forced Victoria and the other women to strip naked and submit to a search. While naked, a female officer at the center told Victoria to bend over and cough three times. Victoria did as she was told but felt distraught and humiliated.

On July 17, immigration officers took Victoria from the detention center in Nevada and sent her to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas. Again, they handcuffed and shackled her during the transfer. In Port Isabel, immigration officers told Victoria that she would be reunited with her son. A week later, on July 25, after two and half months of separation, G.A. finally walked through the door. Victoria was so happy to be reunited, she cried. G.A. cried as well. Victoria and G.A. were then transferred to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas by bus. During their time at Dilley, G.A. passed a credible fear interview and Victoria and G.A. were finally released from detention at the end of November.

Victoria suffered severe emotional distress because of her separation from her son, and continues to experience symptoms of her distress even after their reunification. Since being reunited, G.A. is angrier than he was before immigration officers took him away from his mother, and he continues to blame Victoria for the separation. G.A. does not want to go to school. Victoria believes that her son is afraid to be away from her and that he lives in fear of someone taking him away again.

Other claimants, a twenty-four-year-old Guatemalan national L.G., her seven-year-old daughter, B.G., and a twenty-five-year-old Guatemalan national Leticia and her five-year-old daughter, L.E.A., have very similar stories. Even after reunification, B.G. is still unable to sleep unless her mother holds her. The mothers experienced similar symptoms, including insomnia, loss of appetite, chronic headaches, excruciating chest pains, dramatic weight and hair loss and symptoms consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to experts who examined them, Arnold & Porter wrote.

Stanton Jones, a lawyer for the families, said the government’s “inexplicable cruelty” demands monetary damages.

“The government was harming children intentionally to try to advance what it viewed as a policy objective,” Jones said. “It’s heinous and immoral, but it’s also a civil wrong for which the law provides a claim for relief.”

Jones’s firm, Arnold & Porter, is also behind a separate lawsuit seeking $60 million in damages from the government on behalf of Yazmin Juárez, the mother of a baby who died shortly after being released from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention.

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. The government’s cruel policy of separating children from their parents, and its failure to track the children once they were separated, violated the claimants’ Constitutional right to family integrity, the claim reads.

The Federal Tort Claims Act gives U.S. agencies six months to respond before a potential lawsuit.

The children in all six families suffered similar trauma and continue to experience nightmares and severe anxiety. Each claimant seeks $3 million. If the migrants don’t find the government’s response satisfactory, they can file a lawsuit to try to enforce their demand.

As USA Really reported last November, illegal immigrant caravan members filed a class action lawsuit against President Trump for securing the U.S. border.

Author: USA Really