Two immigrant children in Connecticut sue over family separations

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol

Children in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Texas.

With the help of Connecticut attorneys, two children who were taken from their parents at the U.S.- Mexico border and sent to a Connecticut facility are suing the federal government for the “psychological and mental harm” caused by the separations.

The two children, identified as nine-year-old J.S.R, who traveled to the United States from Honduras, and a 14-year-old Salvadoran girl identified as V.F.B who was separated from her mother, are represented by attorneys at Connecticut Legal Services and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School.

The lawsuits, which seek immediate reunification with the children’s parents, were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut this week. They name Attorney General Jeff Sessions and several federal agencies as the plaintiffs.

The child identified as J.S.R. fled with his father from Honduras after his grandparents were murdered and a body was left in the family’s backyard, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit said the Honduran boy and his father were detained at the border in June and the child was separated from his father while the child was sleeping.

“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,” the lawsuit said.

The young girl, identified as V.F.B., and her mother arrived in the United States in May after fleeing persecution in El Salvador, the lawsuit said.

On the pretext of taking her to bathe, the lawsuit alleges, government officials lured V.F.B. away from her mother at a detention facility in Texas and transferred her to a shelter in Connecticut, thousands of miles from her mother.

The complaint also said the government has taken no steps to reunite V.F.B with her mother, and claims that the girl was allowed to speak to her mother by telephone for the first time on or about June 25, 2018, approximately 39 days after they were forcibly separated.

Both children wee placed in the custody of Noank Community Support Services, Inc., a non-profit agency based in Groton that contracts with the Department of Health and Human Resources to house immigrant children in the custody of the federal government.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut Legal Services, and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale will hold a press conference in New Haven Friday morning to discuss the lawsuits.

The family separations are a result of the Trump administration’s policy of prosecuting all undocumented immigrants seeking entry into the United States, even those seeking asylum. After facing scorching criticism about the separations, President Donald Trump last month issued an executive order that temporarily stopped splitting up families.

The Trump administration says the practice of separating children from their parents is a consequence of a consent order that prohibits minors from being detained for more than 20 days.

But the lawsuits on behalf of the two children argue that the Trump executive order did not include any provisions to reunite families that had been separated,  “nor did it purport to remediate the trauma or other harms caused by family separations.”

About 3,000 children have been separated from their families since the Trump administration inaugurated its “zero tolerance” policy in May.

The lawsuits also allege “racial animus against individuals of Hispanic origin and individuals from Central America” in the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

A Justice Department official said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.  Other agencies being sued, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, did not have an immediate response Thursday night.

Blumenthal, who with Sen. Chris Murphy was denied access to the Noank Center last week by HHS, has written to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Ronald D. Vitiello, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, demanding the children’s parents be released from custody so the families could be reunified.

“While DHS works to secure their release, I further request that you transfer these two parents to Connecticut so they can participate in their children’s legal proceedings, including a habeas corpus proceeding initiated…in Connecticut federal court,” Blumenthal wrote.

There have been a spate of lawsuits stemming from the separation of immigrant children from their parents. Some have resulted in reunions.

But the Trump administration continues to fight others.

On Thursday, government lawyers urged a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought by the New York American Civil Liberties Union over what it has called the excessively long detention of immigrant children, arguing that the judge has no authority to review a federal agency’s internal processes.

Last month, a California judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite immigrant families within 30 days.

“So far, I have seen no sign that the government is complying with this court order or preparing to exercise compassion and care in reuniting these families that our federal agents tore apart,” Blumenthal said. “And with every day that passes, the trauma inflicted on innocent children is compounded.’

Ana Radelat :Ana is a longtime Washington correspondent who has won numerous awards, including from The Associated Press and Gannett, has written for more than a dozen newspapers, including USAToday; The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger; the Shreveport (La.) Times; and the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser. She’s also been a regular contributor to other publications, including the Miami Herald and Advertising Age. Some of the stories Ana has broken focused on the strategies of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former Sen. Trent Lott’s fall from power and questionable Hurricane Katrina contracts. A regular contributor to WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio, a partner of The Mirror, Ana is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism. E-mail her at aradelat@ctmirror.org.