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Family Separation Class Action Settlement: Ms. L. v. ICE

October 16, 2023 (3 min read)

DOJ, Oct. 16, 2023

"On Oct. 16, the United States reached a settlement in Ms. L., et al. v. ICE, et al., a class action litigation filed in 2018 seeking injunctive relief relating to the separation of parents and children at the southwest border. The proposed settlement agreement is subject to final approval by the district court after notice to the class and an opportunity to object.

“The practice of separating families at the southwest border was shameful,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This agreement will facilitate the reunification of separated families and provide them with critical services to aid in their recovery. I am grateful to Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and the Department’s Civil Division for their work on this matter.” 

Under the proposed settlement, new standards will be established to limit family separations in the future. The settlement provides for continued family reunifications, immigration relief, and certain support services for separated families, including behavioral health services, targeted legal support related to immigration claims, limited housing assistance, and certain medical coverage. The settlement does not involve the payment of monetary damages. Those who believe they are class members may submit claims of class membership to the Family Reunification Task Force through the website.

“The separation of families at our southern border was a betrayal of our nation’s values,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “By providing services to these families and implementing polices to prevent future separations, today’s agreement addresses the impacts of those separations and helps ensure that nothing like this happens again.”

On Feb. 26, 2018, a plaintiff identified as “Ms. L” filed a complaint in the Southern District of California alleging she had been unlawfully separated from her child. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) later filed an amended complaint to add class action claims contending that the separation of putative class member parents from their children violated procedural and substantive due process, as well as the asylum statute. On June 26, 2018, the district court certified a class of separated parents and issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting future separations except in certain specified circumstances. The court also required the reunification of families previously separated.

Since that time, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have worked with plaintiffs to identify class members and their children, developed plans for reunification, and reunified class members with their children. On Jan. 26, 2021, the Justice Department rescinded the Department’s 2018 zero-tolerance policy for offenses under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a). In Feb. 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order establishing the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families, comprised of representatives from various federal agencies, including the Justice Department, DHS, and HHS. The parties have worked extensively to reunify families in accordance with the Executive Order and subsequent orders from the district court. The task force has searched through thousands of government records to identify separated families and has thus far reunited more than 750 children with their families and has identified 85 additional children who are currently in the process of being reunited with their families. The task force has also identified more than 290 U.S. citizen children who were separated from their parents during the relevant time frame, is working to confirm that they have been reunified with their families, and will offer them services to support their reunification.

Director William C. Peachey, Assistant Director William C. Silvis, Senior Litigation Counsel Sarah B. Fabian, and Trial Attorney Fizza Batool, all of the Civil Division’s Office of Immigration Litigation, are handling the case."