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Migrant Families Win Landmark Settlement Barring Future Family Separation, Offering Path to Asylum

As reported by The Washington Post, NBC and CBS, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union secured final approval of an historic settlement in Ms. L v. ICE,  barring the future separation of migrant families, allowing parents the right to join their children in the U.S., and providing assistance to more than 5,000 families who were torn apart.

The settlement, approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, would not have been possible but for a five-year, wide-ranging and strategic pro bono effort by our firm. It is a critical step towards closing one of the darkest chapters of the Trump administration, which began separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2017 as part of a "zero tolerance" policy ordering all adults who crossed the border without authorization to be criminally prosecuted. Under the horrific practice, thousands of children, including babies and toddlers, were ripped from their parents’ arms.

Paul, Weiss began its yearslong effort in August 2018 at the request of the ACLU. Our team led a court-established Plaintiffs Steering Committee comprised of Paul, Weiss and three grassroots nonprofits, Justice in Motion, Kids in Need of Defense and Women’s Refugee Commission, aimed at identifying and contacting migrant parents separated from their children and coordinating these efforts with the ACLU.

At its peak in 2018, the Paul, Weiss team numbered greater than 100 lawyers; over the years the effort has drawn in nearly 350 partners, counsel, associates, visiting lawyers, summer associates, staff attorneys, paralegals and professional staff. The team represented individual families in state and federal court; helped to craft litigation strategy in the ACLU’s class action; created the database used to house and process information about thousands of separated families; and spent thousands of hours contacting separated families across North, Central and Latin America. The first phase of reunification was completed in early March 2020, when 2,797 children had been reunified with their parents or placed with sponsors. 

In the years since, we have continued to chair the steering committee, which became responsible for also locating—and understanding the separation status of—more than a thousand additional children of the “expanded class” in Ms. L, which included many additional families separated before the court order requiring reunification was issued.

The settlement will prohibit the government from separating parents and children except for extraordinary circumstances for a period of eight years, and will also provide separated families with the right to be reunified in the United States, with access to an expedited asylum process, and with the opportunity to receive medical and mental health care and housing assistance.

At the December 8 settlement hearing, Chief U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw called the case a “righteous litigation” that dealt with “one of the most shameful chapters in the history of our country.” The ACLU has said that the settlement is the most significant in its 103-year history.

Paul, Weiss continues to represent, as co-counsel with the ACLU, individual parents and children who are seeking compensation for their separation and abuse by government officials. 

The Paul, Weiss team was led by firm Chairman Brad Karp, litigation counsel Steven Herzog and corporate associate David Marshall. Our work across all aspects of the crisis has been recognized by several industry publications and the international media, including The New York Times.

The Paul, Weiss Steering Committee team also included litigation partner Michele Hirshman, counsel Daniel Juceam and Amy Barton, and associates Charles Thau, Kimberly Grambo, Sarah Moseley, Meaghan Brennan, Johan Tatoy, Andrea Keller, Amberly Wilenski, Samuel Margolis, Samantha Weinberg, Jennifer Gilbert, Amitav Chakraborty, Andrew Wingens, Matteo Godi, Cole Rabinowitz, Jesus Franco, Patrick Cordova, Natsumi Antweiler, Jacob Humerick, Ariana Bloom, Leah Park, Miguel Zamora, Jane Yang, Chantalle Hanna, Alison Benedon, Jacob Braly, Amanda Valerio-Esene, Kyle Sieber, Kate Wald, William Marks, John Donnelly, Aaron Haier and Charles Sucher; corporate partners Michael Vogel, Sarah Stasny and Christodoulos Kaoutzanis, of counsel Eric Goodison, counsel Caitlin Kelly, Lyudmila Bondarenko, Elana Bensoul and Justin Fraterman, and associates Bailey Kay Dore, Karlota Borges, Junghyun Park, Alexia Yang, Jenna Glicksman, Cristina Voicu, Zain Haq, Thea Winterton-Perks, Mariela Cisneros, Fabiola Perez Castro, Deniz Gurbuz, Cecily Ran Deng, Pedram Moussavi, Ryan Blicher, Jamiesyn Aliano, Shimeng Cheng, Lewis Fainer, Monica Hanna, Katherine Shaia, Dylan Keegan and Adam Edgerley; tax partner Robert Killip and associate Valentine Lysikatos Carey; executive compensation partner Jarrett Hoffman and counsel Bruce Goldberger; real estate counsel Ira Gilbert, Sena Ku and Ruobing Chen, and associate Bianca D'Agostaro; restructuring counsel Claudia Tobler and Diane Meyers; personal representation associate Renee Stern; Apollo practice group counsel Femi Austin, Carrie Harrison and Nadeem Waeen, and associate Ashley Hearn; ESG counsel Lissette Duran; pro bono attorneys Tanaz Moghadam and Jeremy Benjamin; and hundreds of former Paul, Weiss lawyers and business professionals who made key contributions to the case.

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