The ACLU says both children and parents suffered trauma after being separated from one another at the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo by Office Congresswoman of Doris Matsui/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 4 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against current and former Trump administration officials seeking damages for immigrant families separated from their children while attempting to enter the United States at its southern border.
The ACLU filed the complaint Thursday with the U.S. District Court in Arizona, accusing the officials of having violated the immigrants' rights while inflicting severe trauma.
"The suffering and trauma inflicted on these little children and parents is horrific," said ACLU's lead lawyer in its family separation case, Lee Gelernt, 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."
Since 2017, more than 4,000 children as young as infants have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration's family separation policy. In 2018, the ACLU sued the White House and was awarded an injunction against the practice and since then most of the children have been returned to their parents.
Thursday's complaint is seeking punitive and compensatory damages, stating the separations, some which lasted up to 16 months, were not only illegal but traumatized both the children and the parents, resulting in lasting effects.
The children suffered trauma as many weren't explained why they were being separated, kept in "punitive conditions" without means of communicating with their parents from weeks to months at a time and weren't provided care for the trauma they experienced, the lawyers said in the filing.
"During the separations, Defendants further ignored the law and their duty to care for separated families -- failing to take basic steps to protect children, maintain information on family units, or mitigate Plaintiffs' suffering while in government custody," the complaint said.
In one case, a 7-year-old child fell asleep in a holding facility with her father, only to wake up alone as he was taken during the night. In another, a 13-year-old girl was handcuffed to keep her from thrashing as her mother was forcibly removed on Christmas. Her separation lasted 16 months "without any regard for her preexisting mental health issues," the complaint said.
Parents separated from their children have also suffered, according to the complaint, with many contemplating suicide and several attempting. One father died in this manner, the lawyers said.
"Parents who survived this experience face a heightened risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems," ACLU said in the complaint. "...For some, the trauma has manifested in physical symptoms, including insomnia, nightmares, painful headaches and dizzy spells and weight loss."
The lawsuit states that their Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment due process clause and equal protection rights were violated.