The Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest at Lowenstein Sandler has filed the first legal complaints in New Jersey on behalf of migrant families separated at the border. The filings, made today in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, seek compensation for the harms done to three immigrant families whose young children were forcibly separated from their parents under the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. These cases are in the forefront of nationwide efforts to seek justice for the 5,648 families the federal government has so far identified as having been separated under the abhorrent policy, 134 of whom remained separated as of October 25, 2022.

Catherine Weiss, chair of the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest, said, “These families fled violence and persecution in their home countries only to encounter U.S. government agents who further abused and terrorized them. Under the family separation policy, U.S. government agents tore young children away from their parents, refused to provide any information about their whereabouts or their welfare, and failed to track separated families so that they could eventually be reunited.”

Families across the country have been seeking justice for the mental, emotional, and physical trauma these forced separations caused. In 2021, the Biden Administration initiated negotiations to provide compensation to separated families but later withdrew from the settlement talks.

(The following statements from clients in these cases have been translated from Spanish.)

“Beatriz,” a mother who was separated from her young child, said, “I turned myself in at a border checkpoint with my three-year-old son because I knew that if I stayed in El Salvador, my life was at risk and gang leaders would kidnap my son. I needed to be safe with my son. Instead, U.S. immigration agents took my son away from me, put him in a van, and I watched him scream and cry in terror until they drove away. I didn’t see him again for weeks.”

Beatriz is still seeking asylum in the U.S. Her son’s biological father is a dangerous gang leader in El Salvador who repeatedly raped and physically assaulted her.

In a separate filing, “Jacob,” a father who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border carrying his then four-year-old daughter “Leya” on his shoulders, said “They put us in a freezing cold cell with other families and then woke us up in the middle of the night. We could hear children crying and screaming. When agents came for Leya, I reminded them that when we turned ourselves in, I had given the agents my daughter’s birth certificate, where I was listed as her father. They still ripped her away from me and accused me of having kidnapped her, even though she cried ‘Papi! Papi!’ as they carried her off. They kept us apart for more than three months. She was only four years old.”

Jacob fled Honduras after a local gang killed several of his family members who were supporting a political party that had taken a stance against the gang. When Jacob started to work for the party, the gang came after him.

In the third case, “Rafael,” who was separated at the border from his then twelve-year-old son “Orlan,” said, “All I could do when they separated me from my son was hug him and tell him to trust God and be strong. I do not understand why the government of the country where we came seeking safety did this to us.”

Rafael and Orlan fled Guatemala after local leaders beheaded Rafael’s father and uncle in a dispute over ancestral lands, then made death threats against Rafael and Orlan. Both sought asylum, which the U.S. government granted.

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