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Paul, Weiss and ACLU Seek Damages on Behalf of Separated Immigrant Families

Paul, Weiss and co-counsel the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of thousands of traumatized children and parents who were forcibly torn from each other under the Trump administration’s illegal practice of separating families at the southern border. The putative class action, filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona, follows a nationwide injunction entered in June 2018 blocking family separations, also as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

The complaint, filed on behalf of families who were separated by the government between 2017 and the present, describes in detail the harm done to children and families impacted by the practice. As set forth in the complaint, thousands of children, including babies and toddlers, were ripped from their parents’ arms with little or no warning, and with no explanations as to why they were being separated; no answers were provided as to where the children were taken; no information was given to either the children or parents about each other’s whereabouts; and children were sent to facilities hundreds or thousands of miles away from their parents. The separated families were not told when — or even if — they would ever see each other again. Many children and parents did not see each other again for a year or more; one young girl, the complaint noted, was held so long that she forgot her native language.

The complaint details how the separated children were detained in punitive conditions, which included going without communication with their parents for weeks or months. During this period, parents had no idea how their children were being cared for, or by whom. Several parents attempted suicide. Traumatized children were not provided any meaningful treatment to address the suffering they experienced or the lasting effects of their separation and confinement.

Meanwhile, the complaint asserts, the Trump administration further ignored the law and their duty to care for separated families — failing to take even the most basic steps to protect children, maintain information on family units, or mitigate the families’ suffering while in government custody. The administration’s care and tracking for the separated children was so deficient that when a federal court finally ordered the government to reunify families, government officials were unable to identify which child belonged to which parent.

The lawsuit cites violations of the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable seizure of children); the Fifth Amendment due process clause (fundamental right to family integrity; right to a hearing; right to adequate health care); equal protection (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin); and federal statutes prohibiting conspiracy to violate civil and constitutional rights. Defendants include current and former officials in the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the White House.

The Paul, Weiss team includes litigation partners Geoffrey Chepiga and Jacqueline Rubin and counsel Hallie Goldblatt and Steven Herzog; pro bono counsel Emily Goldberg and pro bono attorney BJ Jensen; and litigation associates Stephen Thompson, Amanda Valerio, Amanda Sterling, Samantha Bennett, Adam Savitt, Marcelo Triana, Anand Sithian, Erin Morgan, Robert Pollack, Kimberly Grambo, Jennifer Deneault, David Marshall and Alexandra Schiffrin.

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