Eight immigrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s so-called “zero-tolerance policy” are suing the administration for millions in damages for what a lawyer called “inexplicable cruelty” that left lasting psychological damages, according to the Associated Press.
According to the AP, the parents accused immigration officers of “taking their children away without giving them information and sometimes mocking them or denying them a chance to say goodbye. One Guatemalan woman alleged that an immigration officer said her 5-year-old son would be taken, then taunted, ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’ ”
The immigration officer who taunted her and three other women told them the law had changed, that their children would be taken away, and that they would be deported, the claim alleges.
The woman says another immigration officer woke her up at about 5 a.m. days later, ordered her to bathe and clothe her son, and then took her son into another room. The woman says she begged not to have her son taken, then asked that the two be deported together to Guatemala rather than separated. Her son only spoke the indigenous Guatemalan language of Mam.
“The officer laughed,” the claim says. “He made fun of her indigenous accent and said, laughingly, ‘it’s not that easy.’”
They were reunited in July and placed in a family detention center. They were finally released in November.
The claims detail the ongoing psychological trauma as a result of the forced family separations, including a 7-year-old girl who will not sleep without her mother and a 6-year-old boy who is reluctant to eat.
Stanton Jones, a lawyer for the immigrant families, said his clients were entitled to monetary damages because of the government’s “inexplicable cruelty.”
“The government was harming children intentionally to try to advance what it viewed as a policy objective,” Jones said, according to AP. “It’s heinous and immoral, but it’s also a civil wrong for which the law provides a claim for relief.”
The families submitted the claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act to the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
The Trump admin has acknowledged it separated more than 2,000 families last year through the zero-tolerance policy.
Government watchdogs have also found that the government does not know the exact number of families that were separated because agencies did not keep good enough records as the policy was implemented.