On Tuesday, 17 states across the nation, including New York and D.C., filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration. The states’ lawsuit seeks to permanently end the family separation policy, reunite the families who were separated and prohibit federal officials from requiring a parent to give up their asylum claim in order to be reunited with their child.
The States bring this action to protect the States and their residents against the Trump Administration’s practice of refusing entry to asylum applicants who present at Southwestern border ports of entry and its cruel and unlawful policy of forcibly separating families who enter the country along our Southwestern border.
The lawsuit’s argument largely focuses on the trauma that migrant children have endured and the mental illnesses they could face after being separated from their parents. It continues, “unless required to protect a child’s safety, forced separation from their parents is likely to cause immediate and extreme psychological harm to young children, and the resulting cognitive and emotional damage can be permanent.”
The suit also reveals frightening new details and stories concerning the effects of the extreme trauma these children suffered, such as the story of a young South American boy who was separated from his father at the border and placed in a New York group home in June. The “distraught” boy was recently rushed to the hospital after attempting to jump from the second-story window of the facility because he said he missed his parents. Twelve other migrant children who were separated from their parents at the border have been treated for physical and mental illnesses in New York City hospitals. Of those twelve, one was suicidal, and others were suffering from depression and anxiety. Many of the children who are being held in facilities across the country are in their key developmental years. The youngest child in a facility was reported to be a nine-month-old baby.
New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood said in a statement:
Keeping children separated from their parents is inhumane, unconscionable, and illegal—and we’re filing suit to stop it. By tearing children away from their parents and sending them hundreds of miles away, the Trump administration has already caused unfathomable trauma to these children, while undermining New York’s fundamental interests in protecting their health, safety, and wellbeing. This is not who we are as a country, and we won’t stand by as the Trump administration undermines the Constitution and our rights.
The lawsuit goes on to point out that the extreme trauma is also impacting the parents. It reads, “these otherwise fit parents are likely to experience deterioration of their mental and physical health in the aftermath of the forcible separation from their children with symptoms including anxiety, depression, PTSD and other trauma-related disorders.” For example, the lawsuit tells the story of a “distraught” father who committed suicide after officials pried his three-year-old son from his arms at the border.
The suit argues that the states are being harmed by the family separation policy because of their family unity policies: “Defendants’ Policy and subsequent actions harm the States’ sovereign interests by interfering with their licensing authority and rendering the States unable to honor their own policies favoring family unity.” For example, New York says the policy is “harming New York’s strong interest in family unity. It is a long-established policy and practice of the State to prioritize keeping a child with his or her parent or parents, which is key to child development.” It also points out the fact that turning away immigrants who are seeking asylum from violence in their country is illegal: “Border officials are unlawfully turning away these families on the pretext that the United States is “full” or no longer accepting asylum seekers. This unlawful practice exacerbates the trauma already suffered by refugee families while simultaneously artificially increasing illegal entry violations.”
Trump signed an executive order last week ending the zero-tolerance policy and prohibiting any further family separations at the border. However, the families that were already separated remain split up, with little hope of reunification, and are suffering from these trauma-related disorders. As the lawsuit pioints out, “the Order says nothing about reuniting the families already ripped apart by the federal government, and Trump Administration officials have made clear the order will have no impact on the thousands of families who have already been traumatized.”
Overall, the lawsuit claims the Trump administration’s policy has caused “severe, intentional and permanent trauma to the children and parents who are separated in furtherance of an illegitimate deterrence objective.” It seeks to finally reunite the families impacted by Trump’s inhumane law. The states filed the lawsuit on the same day the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s travel ban.