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Three immigrant families in New Jersey demand $6 million from the US for being separated from their children at the border

Three families who were separated under the Trump administration's family separation policy are suing the United States government for up to $6 million in damages for damages they suffered as a result of the policy. Documentary.

Photo: IStock

The legal complaints were filed by the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest at the law firm Lowenstein Sandler November 14 in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey on behalf of the children and their parents who were separated from each other after crossing the southern border, according to the documents.

On the subject: Those wishing to enter the United States through the southern border will be checked by Mexican border guards

There are still 30 children whose reunification status has not been confirmed, according to the Department of Homeland Security's latest report on September 1077, based on data from the Agency's Family Reunification Task Force for Separated Children. Most of these children - 719 in all - have yet to be reunited with their caregivers, but the government has contact information for their families. Nearly 200 are "in the process of reunification". For 167 children, there is no confirmed contact information and the status of their reunification is unknown.

The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Human Services are named in court documents as federal agencies that were "primary actors in the development or implementation of family separation policies."

The documents detail stories of government agents forcibly removing children from their parents and describe the lasting physical and psychological effects of this trauma, including children's distrust of adults, fear of family separation again, anxiety and depression among parents and children, and harm to parent-children. relationships.

As a result of these separations, parents and children say they have had trouble sleeping, headaches, trouble concentrating, stomach pains, and other problems. The complaints also state that parents, children and family members were given minimal information about each other's whereabouts as the parents were moved to different detention centers across the United States, sometimes hundreds of miles away from their children.

More than two dozen lawsuits have been filed across the country on behalf of families affected by the Trump administration's family separation policy, said Katherine Weiss, chair of the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest, who represents families filing lawsuits in New Jersey. But these are the first such lawsuits in New Jersey.

Last year, the Biden administration began settlement talks to compensate the separated families, but later ended those talks with migrant families.

“These families fled violence and persecution in their countries only to face US government agents who further abused and terrorized them,” Weiss said in a statement. “Government agents tore young children away from their parents, refused to provide any information about their whereabouts or their well-being, and failed to track down separated families so they could eventually be reunited.”

All of the families named in the New Jersey lawsuits entered the United States in 2018. The parents were separated from their children for between 37 days and more than three months, the complaints said. The youngest children at the time of separation were three and four years old, and the oldest was twelve years old.

The mother, named Beatriz, fled gang violence in El Salvador and attempted to enter the United States through a port of entry in Rio Grande City, Texas on May 28, 2018, along with her then 3-year-old son Manuel, according to the complaint. All names in the complaint are pseudonyms.

A few days later, government officials "suddenly snatched Manuel from Beatrice's arms, ignoring the baby's panicked cries as they placed Manuel in another car," according to court documents.

"Beatrice watched as the jeep containing her frightened, screaming child drove off while the government agents who separated them refused to give her any information about where he was going or whether he would be returned to her," the lawsuit says.

Her son, Manuel, was placed in the care of the Refugee Settlement Authority and taken to an orphanage in the Bronx called Abbott House, about 3000 km from the detention center where mother and son were separated.

Beatriz and Manuel were only reunited 42 days after their separation.

According to earlier lawsuits in New York State, children under the custody of three organizations that have entered into an agreement with the Office of Refugee Accommodation to accommodate unaccompanied minors, including Abbott House, have gone missing or been sexually or physically abused by staff and others. adopted children.

To this day, Manuel still becomes sad and scared when he is away from his mother, the lawsuit says, and Beatriz continues to experience "extreme emotional distress" from their separation.

Another family mentioned in the court papers, a father and daughter from Honduras named Jacob and Leah, who were 4 at the time, were separated for about three months and were only able to talk to each other on the phone twice during their separation, according to the complaint. . After Jacob and Leia crossed the border near Hidalgo, Texas, government agents "took Leia out of Jacob's grasp," according to the complaint. "The agents ignored the cries and pleas of Leah and Jacob to leave them together," the lawsuit says.

Jacob was eventually transferred to the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey and later sent to Michigan to be reunited with his daughter.

The two families' immigration cases are still pending as they await a decision on whether they will be granted assistance in obtaining permission to stay in the United States.

Weiss, a lawyer representing the families, said the three- and four-year-olds "just had no idea what was going on." When these young children were taken from their parents, one of the psychologists who were working on the cases at the time described it as “burning down the house,” Weiss said.

“And the longer it goes on, the more the house burns down. It was the same with these two babies,” Weiss said.

Weiss hopes the government will negotiate a settlement. But she doubts that will happen, pointing to other family separation lawsuits in which the government has denied those motions. “And I expect they will do the same here,” she said.

But the government has lost those motions to dismiss, Weiss said, and if the New Jersey complaints are not dismissed, a legal disclosure process will begin. “I hope things change and they really start taking these cases seriously,” she said.

A spokesman for the Executive Office of Immigration Control (EOIR) within the Department of Justice said EOIR does not comment on ongoing lawsuits.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants, and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection officials, which are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, also said they would not comment on the ongoing lawsuit.

All three families currently live in New Jersey. But only one of the families has so far received legal status in the United States.

A father named Rafael and his son Orlan received asylum after they fled to the US from Guatemala. The son was 12 years old at the time of the separation in June 2018, and according to court documents, they had been separated for about 37 days.

“All I could do when they separated me from my son was to hug him and tell him to trust God and be strong,” Rafael said in a statement. “I don’t understand why the government of the country where we came looking for safety did this to us.”

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