A federal lawsuit accuses U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House chief of staff John Kelly of conspiring to separate Central and South American families at the Mexican border.
The Boston Globe reports that the plaintiffs say the government’s actions were illegal and unconscionable. Consequently, the suit demands that the administration pay for inflicting physical pain and emotional stress upon young children separated from their parents in detention.
Lawyers in the suit represent two Guatemalan families, both of which claim to have been torn apart under President Trump’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy toward illegal immigration.
The Globe says the suit is believed to be the first claim for compensation. At least 2,500 children were taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under the current administration. As of late August, hundreds had yet to be reunited with relatives.
If successful, the plaintiffs hope to obtain unspecified damages to create a mental health fund to pay for children’s therapy and counseling.
“These families … have been treated so inhumanely, so cruelly, and so inconsistently with the principles of this country that this lawsuit has been filed on their children’s behalf to seek redress for the damages that their children suffered,” said immigration lawyer Susan Church.
She, writes the Globe, was ‘one of many attorneys’ to gather at the offices of Todd & Weld to announce the suit on Thursday.
Along with the U.S. attorney general and White House chief of staff, Trump adviser Stephen Miller and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are named as defendants. Also included in the suit are a handful of officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which has played a critical role in the capture, detainment and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
One of the mothers leading the complaint says she tried crossing the Texas border in May with her 17-year old son and 9-year old daughter. Agents took the mother to a holding facility and placed both children in a ‘freezing home.’
Attorneys say the boy and girl were subjected to abuse by guards.
The 9-year old was allegedly awakened at ‘odd hours’ by federal agents who’d yank her ponytail and order her to bathe. The boy claims to have been kicked by guards, who refuse to believe that he was an underage teen.
Other minors incarcerated in the facility were purportedly insulted in Spanish, called “trash” and told to “shut up” when they started crying.
The family was kept separate for five weeks; the young girl still wakes up at night, terrified that she may be yanked from bed for oversleeping.
Another father included in the suit says he and his 11-year old boy were denied nutritious meals, made to share one burrito twice per day. Border patrol agents told them that they weren’t “here to get fat” when they asked for more food.
Lawyers say that the Trump administration violated the due process rights of immigrants and their children—it also claims that officials like Sessions and Nielsen chose to intentionally discriminate against Central and South American migrants.
“They were specifically selected for this brutality based on their race and national origin,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. “That is not only illegal. It is despicable.”