Three fathers who were separated from their young children when they tried to migrate to the US want millions of dollars in compensation from the US government for the toll the months of separation took on their families.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and law firm Covington & Burlington filed administrative claims Thursday seeking damages from the US government on behalf of three men who were separated from their children at the border. The separation caused lasting harm for the families, the advocacy group and law firm said in a news release.
The filings describe children who cry in the night, refuse to eat and are fearful of going out, and parents struggling with guilt and anxiety.
“Thousands of children, parents and entire families will suffer the rest of their lives as a result of this administration’s intentionally cruel family separations,” said Michelle Lapointe, senior supervising attorney at the SPLC.
The claims are seeking $3 million in compensation per person, or a total of $6 million per separated family, the SPLC told CNN. If the government does not respond to the claims within six months, the fathers can go on to sue the government in federal court.
The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, announced in April 2018, caused thousands of family separations at the border. Facing mounting public pressure, the administration put an end to the policy last year and said it would only separate families at the border if there were conerns about criminal history or a child’s welfare.
Court orders in an ongoing federal lawsuit have forced officials to identify and reunify a majority of families the government separated, though some parents and children the government split up remain separated. The lawsuit has now expanded to include separated families who weren’t covered by the original court order in the case, and officials have been working to identify families in that group.
Thursday’s release said the administrative claims on behalf of the three fathers are an effort to hold the government accountable for the “serious trauma and suffering” the families endured because of the separation.
“The damage done to these fathers, their children and their entire families can never be undone,” said Jay Carey, a partner at Covington & Burling. “But, those responsible for their suffering can and must be held responsible, and a message must be sent – especially to this administration – that such cruelty is unconscionable and will not be tolerated.”
CNN has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment on the claims.
His 7-year-old son cries himself to sleep
One father, identified as M.C.L., said since returning to Guatemala after seeking asylum in the US, he and his wife have been keeping watch over their 7-year-old son as he sleeps at night, according to the filing.
The boy lives in a perpetual state of fear and they worry he may try to leave or hurt himself at night, the filing says. His mother carries him to bed, holding him while he cries until he falls asleep.
A year after returning to Guatemala, the child struggles in school, frequently refuses to eat and is afraid of police officers, the filing says.
“This is a stark difference from the child A.C.R. was before he was separated from his father,” the complaint says. “Before the separation, A.C.R. was a normal, happy child.”
Meantime, M.C.L. is struggling with guilt over not having done more to prevent the separation, according to the filing.
His 9-year-old daughter says she was abused in detention
A father identified as R.Z.G. didn’t see his 9-year-old daughter for 253 days after they presented themselves at the port of entry, according to the filing. R.Z.G. says he made repeated attempts to find his daughter during his detention and deportation.
Now that they are back together, he says, “I ask God to carry my family forward,” the filing says.
His daughter alleges she was abused by immigrations officers, the complaint says.
The child, “once a well-adjusted young girl with many friends, now prefers to stay at home with her mother and her brothers,” the filing says. She does not socialize with other children and is afraid to travel and to be away from her father.
Her parents are suffering from anxiety and depression after the separation, the complaint says.
His 6-year-old daughter shows signs of trauma
H.P.M.’s 6-year-old daughter was outgoing and friendly when she was separated from her parents for 108 days, the filing says.
When they were reunited, she had become distant and “stared blankly at walls or other things, and she didn’t respond when called or when spoken to,” the complaint says.
H.P.M. took her to a doctor, who said the little girl was showing signs of trauma, according to the filing. But he could not pay for the therapy she needed on a regular basis, the filing says.
“H.P.M. felt depressed and guilty and believed that everything (his daughter) suffered was his fault,” the complaint says. “He tries to forget everything that happened but cannot. He often feels sadness, frustration or anger at what happened.”
CNN’s Tammy Kupperman and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.