Two fathers who were separated from their children at the border are suing the US government for $12 million, saying their children were abused at foster homes in the US.
The lawsuit filed Friday in the US District Court of Arizona argues that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy was “cruel and unconstitutional,” that it tore their families apart and that their children are still suffering as a result – more than a year after they were reunited.
The fathers also allege in the lawsuit that their children were abused by other children while in government custody.
In a statement released by the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the fathers described the pain he said he and his family endured.
“He was taken from me and I had no idea what was happening to him. When I learned that he was abused by other boys, I was sick with grief,” said the father, who’s identified in the lawsuit by his initials, A.P.F. “No one deserves this cruelty.”
The Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, stating in an email to CNN that it doesn’t comment on specific matters related to ongoing litigation. The agency said the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s network of facilities and programs across the country is “dedicated to the welfare of children,” and that children in the agency’s care are “provided a safe and healthy environment that ensures access to nutritious food, clean clothes, education and medical services.”
CNN also has asked the Department of Homeland Security for comment.
Matt Schlesinger, a partner at Covington & Burling, said in a statement that the lawsuit and others like it aim to send a message.
“This lawsuit, and future ones like it we plan to file, are designed to obtain compensation to help mitigate the harms our clients and their families have suffered and to ensure the government never again implements such a malicious policy,” he said.
Both fathers say they were separated from their children in Arizona in May 2018, and remained separated for more than two months.
Both children “suffered abuse while in US government custody,” the lawsuit says.
A.P.F. alleges that his 7-year-old son was sexually abused in a New York foster home where he’d been placed. After he disclosed the abuse, the lawsuit says the boy was placed in a new foster home the same day.
The other father, identified in the lawsuit as J.V.S., says his 5-year-old daughter was touched inappropriately by a boy in her foster home and moved to another foster home after she reported it.
Both fathers say their children are showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the separation.
A.P.F.’s son “suffers from traumatic flashbacks, nightmares and extreme separation anxiety,” according to the lawsuit.
And J.V.S.’s daughter “has nightmares, is quick to anger, and suffers from low self-esteem.
“The fathers also suffered emotional trauma— as would any parent who is deprived of any ability to protect their child, and later learns that their child has suffered and lives with continued pain,” the suit says.
The lawsuit is seeking $3 million in compensation per plaintiff, or a total of $6 million per separated family, the SPLC told CNN.