MIAMI, FL – On August 28, 2020 Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) filed one of the first Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) cases seeking justice for a family separated at the border during the U.S. Government’s pilot program for family separation. In November 2017, “Andres” and his three-year old son “Juan” crossed the U.S.-Mexico border fleeing Honduras, following death threats from a criminal cartel. Once apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), they were detained for four days in freezing and overcrowded cells referred to as hieleras (ice boxes) by both CBP and immigrants. On the fourth day, officers demanded that Andres give up his son. When he failed to do so, clinging to Juan, Andres was verbally abused by officers and then threatened with a taser and pepper spray. Juan was forcibly ripped from his father’s arms while crying “Papi.” They would remain separated for 73 days, until reunited in Miami with other family members.
“This complaint seeks damages from the government for its negligence, assault and infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. AI Justice will be filing additional lawsuits in federal court in an effort to obtain some measure of justice for our clients who are victims of family separation,” Lisa Lehner, AI Justice Litigation Director, said.
The government’s policy of forced family separation has upended the lives of thousands of parents and children, including infants. This unthinkable, cruel policy was not accidental. It was intentionally designed to deter families from coming to the U.S. regardless of the harm it caused. The family separation policy continued through 2018, causing untold trauma and despite dire warnings from many, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, about the serious consequences of family separation on children’s mental health and well-being.
Cheryl Little, AI Justice Executive Director, notes that “Over the course of twenty-plus years representing immigrant children, we have borne witness to unspeakable trauma and human rights abuses. Yet nothing could have prepared us for the widespread and lasting harm that the family separation crisis has caused and continues to cause.”
Robert L. Parks joins AI Justice as Co-counsel in this case.
Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) is an award-winning non-profit law firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, it champions the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocates for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serves as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speaks for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.