Immigration Law

Judge: Feds Must Treat Separated Migrant Kids for PTSD

Rosa Ferneuax, Mother Jones, July 17, 2018 - "Two immigrant children who were separated from their parents at the southern border have had their constitutional rights violated, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled late last week in yet another blow to the Trump administration’s draconian immigration agenda. Judge Victor Bolden also ordered on Friday that the federal government produce the children’s parents in court this week and present a plan for addressing how to treat the children’s post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the separation.

Connecticut Legal Services, who represented the children alongside the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, said it was the first case in the county brought on behalf of separated children, rather than parents, to challenge the Trump administration’s policy on forcible family separation. Judge Bolden’s decision is also believed to be the first to find that the government’s policy violates the constitutional rights specifically of the separated children, not just the parents. While the ruling applies only to the two children named in the lawsuit, experts say it could be used as a template for other actions on behalf of separated children, or for judges facing similar legal challenges across the country.

Significantly, the ruling shows that “all parties” agreed that the children’s rights had been violated. The government conceded that the children’s “separation from their parents was, and remains, traumatic,” though it argued that they were receiving “excellent care” at a residential children’s home in Connecticut.

 

On Friday, Bolden said the court concurred that the children’s constitutional rights had been violated, ruling that “[t]he government failed to provide the children with notice or a hearing, instead taking their parents, while distracting the children.” Bolden also noted that “[e]ven now, the government has not established a compelling reason for depriving the children of their family integrity.”

Bolden’s decision follows a ruling by Judge Dana Sabraw in California on June 26, which found that parents’ constitutional rights were violated when they were separated from their children after crossing the US southern border. As a class-action lawsuit, that decision has affected thousands of  children who must now be reunited with their parents by July 26, though it’s still unclear if the government will meet the deadline.

Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic, said the government’s concession to violating the children’s constitutional rights was “striking.” In contrast, during the California case, the government argued that “separation of plaintiffs [the immigrant parents] from their children does not violate the Fifth Amendment.” This time it appears the government has not contested that claim.

While the Connecticut ruling officially affects only the two children, identified in court documents as “J.S.R” and “V.F.B.,” Hoffman says it has the potential to inspire more groups to file challenges on behalf of children—and provide a template for other judges to get children the constitutional protections and care they think they need. “I’ve seen it here in Houston, and I’m sure in other cities attorneys are getting together and considering these types of individual actions,” he said."