Separated Family Members Seek Monetary Damages from United States

C.M. v. United States, Case 2:19-cv-05217-SRB (D. Ariz., filed Sept. 19, 2019)

Five asylum-seeking mothers and their children sued to seek monetary compensation for the trauma they suffered when torn apart under the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. Each family was fleeing persecution in their country of origin. Instead of finding safety in the United States, the government forcibly took the children from their mothers and then left them in the dark about where they were taken and when—if ever—they would see each other again. The mothers and their children suffered greatly during the separations, which in some cases lasted for months, and continue to suffer.  

The case is brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the United States for injuries resulting from unlawful conduct of federal officers. Plaintiffs claim that the government committed the torts of intention infliction of emotional distress and negligence.  

Government records produced during the litigation show that discussions about separating families as a deterrent began early in the Trump administration. A pilot program in El Paso, where parents were prosecuted and families were separated, was deemed successful, leading high-level officials to advocate for its expansion. Despite repeated warnings about the severe trauma it would cause, the government implemented family separation without adequate systems for communication and reunification. Families were often separated before it was determined if the parent would be prosecuted, and many remained separated even when parents were not prosecuted or spent minimal time in custody. Concerns were raised by officials about reuniting families too quickly, with the intention of reuniting them solely for deportation purposes.

The mothers and their children are represented by the Council, the National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Litigation Alliance, Arnold & Porter, and KairysRudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin.

Litigation Tab

  • The requests ask for policies, guidelines, or procedures followed or used by the governmental agencies to address the processing and treatment of families at the U.S.-Mexico border and specifically, the separation of adult family members from minor children and the criminal prosecution of adult family members.

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