A group of five women separated from their children after migrating to the United States to seek asylum have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, NBC News reports. The suit says the federal government caused their families “extraordinary trauma” via its “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Zero tolerance, which started in summer 2017, included forcibly removing nearly 4,000 children from parents who crossed the border in a manner the government deemed “illegal.” Those children were later sent to migrant children shelters, foster homes and detention facilities.
As Colorlines previously reported, experts have weighed in on the emotional trauma that comes with separating children from their guardians:
“If you take the moral, spiritual, even political aspect out of it, from a strictly medical and scientific point of view, what we as a country are doing to these children at the border is unconscionable,” Luis H. Zayas, dean of the school of social work at The University of Texas at Austin, told The Washington Post. “The harm our government is now causing will take a lifetime to undo.”
Trina Realmuto, directing attorney at the American Immigration Council, represents the five mothers in the lawsuit. She spoke to NBC about her clients and this groundbreaking case. “The separations are going to harm them for the rest of their lives,” she said. “This is about putting a human face to both the human cost and the financial cost of implementing these policies, as well as seeking the monetary compensation needed to recover from this trauma.” They also want to ensure “that this does not happen to anyone else,” Realmuto said.
One of the mothers suing the Trump administration was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a psychologist at a detention center in Texas, the lawsuit says, adding that she lives “in a constant state of fear and worry” after her son was sent to an immigration facility in New York while she was still detained at the border.
Her 14-year-old son also continues to manifest symptoms stemming from the trauma of being forcefully separated from his mother for two and a half months. A year after the separation, the teenager shows indications of severe emotional distress, such as outbursts of inexplicable anger, as well as a refusal to eat or discuss the separation, the lawsuit says.
Realmuto says these are all signs of “clear abuse,” and that the United States is essentially terrorizing people who are already fleeing dangerous, life-threatening situations. “When people are fleeing horrible persecution, they see the U.S. as a place of refuge where they can seek safety,” she said. “We don’t think of the U.S. as the place that inflicts pain and suffering, but that is exactly what is happening.”
According to NBC, immigration authorities declined to comment because this lawsuit is “pending litigation.”