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One of the darkest chapters of the Trump presidency – and modern American history – is the administration’s family separation policy. New stories are shedding light on just how cruel the Trump administration has been.
According to Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice: “New details and revelations continue to emerge, underscoring the ongoing nature of the Trump team’s incredible incompetence and jaw-dropping cruelty. Republicans’ ongoing barbarism will be on display this week as Trump and their GOP allies ask Congress for more money and weaker asylum laws to continue their increasing inhumanity, so they can detain children longer or deport them without hesitation.”
Two stories from over the weekend drive home these points and offer a disturbing reminder that for the thousands of children and families directly affected, the trauma inflicted is ongoing and incalculable. Below are excerpts from new pieces in The New York Times and The New Yorker, spotlighting the ongoing trauma of family separation and highlighting a new effort to seek accountability for the government’s actions:
Caitlin Dickerson in The New York Times, “The Youngest Child Separated From His Family at the Border Was 4 Months Old”
The text messages were coming in all day and night with only two data points: Gender and age. With each one that arrived, the on-call caseworker at Bethany Christian Services in Michigan had 15 minutes to find a foster home for another child who was en route from the border. On a brisk winter day in February 2018, Alma Acevedo got a message that caught her breath: “4 months. Boy.”
…None of them had been this young, and few had come this far. When he arrived at her office after midnight, transported by two contract workers, the infant was striking, with long, curled eyelashes framing his deep brown eyes. His legs and arms were chubby, seeming to indicate that he had been cared for by someone. So why was he in Michigan?
Ms. Acevedo went to her computer and pulled up the only document that might help answer that question, a birth certificate from Romania naming the baby, Constantin Mutu, and his parents, Vasile and Florentina. She searched a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency database that showed the baby’s father was in federal custody in Pearsall, Tex.
Constantin was ultimately the youngest of thousands of children taken from their parents under a policy that was meant to deter families hoping to immigrate to the United States. It began nearly a year before the administration would acknowledge it publicly in May 2018, and the total number of those affected is still unknown. The government still has not told the Mutus why their son was taken from them, and officials from the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment for this story.
In Constantin’s case, it would be months before his parents saw him again. Before then, his father would be sent for psychiatric evaluation in a Texas immigration detention center because he couldn’t stop crying; his mother would be hospitalized with hypertension from stress. Constantin would become attached to a middle-class American family, having spent the majority of his life in their tri-level house on a tree-lined street in rural Michigan, and then be sent home.
Now more than a year and a half old, the baby still can’t walk on his own, and has not spoken…
Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker, “How Families Separated at the Border Could Make the Government Pay”
If you’ve ever borrowed a ruffled cocktail dress or a sequinned jumpsuit from the fashion startup Rent the Runway, Suny Rodríguez might have helped with your order. She works at the company’s so-called Dream Fulfillment Center, a glorified warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey, where she sorts clothing for distribution. But, beginning in 2016, she also had a less formal occupation, as the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit alleging that she endured “extreme and outrageous” harms at the hands of U.S. immigration agents, including attempts to take her young son from her. It was the first suit of its kind to seek monetary damages related to family detention and separation. The Trump Administration came to power shortly after she filed her case, and, since then, more than three thousand parents and children have gone through separations. Rodríguez knew that, if her case succeeded, it would provide a model for how these families could seek justice, potentially claiming hundreds of millions of dollars in legal damages. As public outrage about the family-separation crisis has grown, many people have wondered who, if anyone, would pay for the trauma inflicted. Rodríguez was the first to seek an answer.
…Most asylum seekers don’t want to think about their time in detention after they leave, but Rodríguez couldn’t help it. She asked the asap team if she could take the government to court, to hold it accountable for what she and her son had experienced. asap worked closely with co-counsels from Yale, Columbia, and a firm called Gibbons P.C., and, in August of 2016, the group filed Rodríguez and Daniel’s lawsuit, Suny Rodríguez Alvarado and A.S.R., a minor, v. the United States of America. The complaint was banal and revelatory at once, enumerating a litany of alleged abuses that were both illegal and ubiquitous at the border. The pair were held in cold, crowded cells, in substandard conditions, for three days—an apparent violation of C.B.P. policy, which, at the time, specified that migrants should be held in “safe, secure, and clean” rooms, for no longer than twelve hours. Agents constantly tried to coerce Rodríguez into agreeing to her own deportation—a violation of non-refoulement laws, which prohibit returning asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution. Daniel’s medication was confiscated, and he was detained for longer than allowed, even after a judge ordered his release. ice’s attempt to separate him from his mother, the suit alleged, caused them both “extreme distress”; they feared that they would “lose contact with each other, as they had with” Rafael.
The case was rare, in part, for its legal strategy. The federal government typically enjoys sovereign immunity from private lawsuits, which has made it hard for asylum-seeking families to sue. Big civil-rights groups tend to focus on class-action cases to combat constitutional violations, but these suits rarely deliver financial reparations to individual asylum seekers. The asap team relied, instead, on the Federal Tort Claims Act (F.T.C.A.), which lets people seek redress when a federal employee, acting within his or her official duties, causes certain egregious injuries. If they could prove that government officials acted in an “outrageous” manner that caused intentional and severe emotional distress or physical harm, they could win damages. Rodríguez was an early test case to emerge from family detention, but the asap lawyers hoped that she would clear a path for suits from other people who had suffered similar abuses. They also saw the case as a way to fight the normalization of detainee abuse.