NEW HAVEN, CT —(Updated 3:30 p.m. July 6) A 9-year-old boy from Honduras and a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador are suing the federal government after being separated from their parents at the U.S. border and then transported Connecticut.
The two children, who are being represented by attorneys at Connecticut Legal Services and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, are each suing the government for failing to reunite them with their parents.
The boy from Honduras, who is being referred to in court documents by his initials, J.S.R., fled his home country when his grandparents were murdered and a dead body was left in his backyard.
“The federal government has put two thousand miles between a frightened nine-year-old boy and the most important person in his life, causing J.S.R. acute psychological harm and exposing him to the significant risk of long-term mental, emotional, and physical damage as a result of his trauma,” lawyers with Connecticut Legal Services wrote in their lawsuit against the federal government.
According to J.S.R.‘s complaint, he was taken from his father while he was sleeping in early June.
The 14-year-old girl, who is referred to as V.F.B., was lured away from her mother at a Texas detention facility on the promise of being given a bath and then transported more than 2,000 miles to a shelter in Connecticut, according to her lawsuit. The mother and daughter were seeking asylum.
“V.F.B. and her mother arrived in the United States in May 2018 after fleeing persecution in El Salvador. They arrived in the United States soon after Defendants announced implementation of their ‘zero tolerance policy,’” V.F.B.‘s complaint states.
The U.S. Attorney who filed an appearance in the two Connecticut cases, Michelle A. McConaghy, filed a brief opposing the plaintiffs’ request. She argues in the brief that “there is already a process, which Plaintiffs and their Parents are part of, for reunification.”
She also argued that the lawsuit is hindering the process of reunification: “Plaintiff J.S.R.’s father’s alien file was with agents who were working on making arrangements to reunify Plaintiff with his father. Unfortunately, the alien file had to briefly be pulled from that process so that the file could be reviewed so that the Defendants could access the factual history and adequately respond to the motions and complaints being filed in Court.”
Click here to read McConaghy’s full brief.
The two complaints filed Monday in U.S. District Court name as defendants Attorney General Jeff Session, the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, and other agencies involved with immigration. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the government has taken no steps to reunite the children with their parents.
Connecticut Legal Services and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School held a press conference at Friday to discuss the suit.
More than 50 people crowded into the law school’s wood-lined faculty lounge for the press conference.
They learned that the two children have been separated for more than a month now from their parents with whom they crossed the border into Texas.
Joanne Lewis, managing attorney for Connecticut Legal Services, reported that her group’s attorneys and staff recently met with the kids, who are being kept in a 12-bed group home in Noank, a subcontracted facility normally used by the federal government to house unaccompanied minors. It presents a home-like atmosphere, different from the detention-like facilities in which people were kept immediately after crossing the border, she and other speakers reported.
She added that while the federal government was at a loss to find them, her group’s attorneys did. They’ve located the parents, both in Texas, and were able to arrange phone calls. They also were able to bring in Dr. Andres Martin from the Yale Child Study Center to examine the kids. His finding — that the prolonged separation is casuing deep developmental and psychiatric damage — led the CLS to demand its law suit immediate reunification with parents and in a non-stressful setting.
U.S. District Court Judge Victor Bolden will hear the case next Wednesday in Bridgeport. The suit also calls for the government to bring the parents to the court in Bridgeport on Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, among the bevy of political speakers at the presser, said that there is no plan for that reunification and no information available.
He put it simply: “What the United States did is kidnapping. What this lawsuit seeks to do is right a legal wrong before July 26.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was equally blunt: “If a governor from any state, if an attorney general from any state had done this, they’d be indicted and impeached.”
New Haven State Sen. President Marty Looney said that by its inhumane actions, “The Trump administration is destroying the last vestige of American exceptionalism, the notion that American is more moral [than other countries].”
The immigration debate has focused on the U.S.-Mexico border and the new “zero-tolerance” policy enacted by the Trump administration in April. The policy led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents. In some cases, children were taken from their parents pending court proceedings, and then the parents were deported without their children.
In the face of widespread public condemnation over the new policy and how it has been executed, President Trump signed an executive order on June 20 that “continued the policy of initiating criminal proceedings for all individuals who crossed the border without authorization; however, in place of systematic separation of families, the EO called for indefinite detention of families in camps and makeshift facilities,” the complaint states.
The executive order “did not include any provisions to reunite families that had been separated at the border, nor did it purport to remediate the trauma or other harms caused by family Separation,” the complaint adds. “DHS has not disclosed any process for reunification of families prior to removal, including during the pendency of asylum claims, which may last for months. In litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Defendants did not dispute that they had ‘no plans or procedures to reunify the parent with the child other than arranging for them to be deported together after the parent’s immigration case is concluded’.”
In separate but related litigation, the ACLU filed a class action in California challenging the government’s separation of families seeking asylum and brought forth on behalf of Mrs. L, a Congolese mother and her 7-year-old daughter who were separated by thousands of miles for months after crossing into the U.S.-Mexico border into San Diego.
In its second amended complaint, the ACLU says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents use fear tactics to coerce parents into giving up their applications for asylum in exchange for being reunited with their children.
On June 26, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ordered U.S. authorities to reunite families who had been separated at the U.S. border within 30 days.
On Thursday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters that his department is ready to reunite children in his care with their parents, starting next Tuesday with those under age 5.
But that still doesn’t immediately help the two children in Connecticut. Earlier today, Azar told reporters that no children had yet been reunited with their parents.
A court hearing on the administration’s efforts is scheduled for Friday in San Diego.
Allan Appel of the New Haven Independent contributed to this report.