BOSTON (Sept. 6, 2018) -- A team of Boston immigration, civil rights, and trial attorneys jointly filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of children seeking damages against Trump Administration officials for forcibly separating the children from their parents.
The complaint, which describes egregious violations of the constitutional and civil rights of immigrant children, was filed personally against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Senior Presidential Advisor Stephen Miller, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, among other Trump Administration officials who designed and implemented the ill-fated “zero tolerance” policy.
The lawsuit, which is believed to be the first of its kind filed nationally, seeks damages including dedicated resources for mental health services and ongoing mental health monitoring for the affected children who have suffered harm as a result of their unlawful and prolonged separation.
Many of the affected children fled persecution only to suffer a worse fate once they crossed the border with their parents. According to the lawsuit, federal officials willfully and intentionally inflicted extreme emotional suffering and trauma on children, some younger than two years of age, particularly those from Central and South America, as part of a calculated effort to deter immigrant parents from asserting their legal right to seek asylum in the United States.
The complaint recites the famous Emma Lazarus sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free” – and asserts that federal officials have betrayed this American tradition, betrayed the United States Constitution, and betrayed basic American values through their actions, and that they must be held accountable for all present and future suffering they have caused to these innocent children.
The lawsuit is filed by parents identified as “E.O.,” “L.J.,” and “F.C.” on behalf of their children, who are identified as “K.O.,” “E.O, Jr.,” and “C.J.” as well on behalf of a class of all other similarly situated children. The plaintiffs are proceeding anonymously because they fear retaliation and social stigma.
The complaint describes in detail one family’s difficult journey to the United States and their experience at the border seeking refuge in this country after fleeing violence in their native Guatemala.
This family’s first experience in the United States -- the country they looked to for refuge from persecution in Guatemala -- was allegedly the forcible separation of K.O. and E.O., Jr. from their mother. A Border Patrol agent is alleged to have physically pried K.O. away from her mother saying: “You’re going to be deported to Guatemala and we’re going to adopt your daughter.” This act is recited as just the start of the family’s traumatic separation.
A second family, F.C. and his 11-year-old son, C.J., also fled life-threatening conditions in Guatemala, seeking asylum. Their prolonged separation, the damaging conditions while in detention and the multiple violations of their rights closely align with those of their co-plaintiffs and fellow class members.
The lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court in Worcester, Mass. The legal team will seek the earliest possible court hearing so the case moves forward expeditiously to obtain much needed resources for mental health services for the affected children, as well as damages for their suffering.
The following lawyers and law firms are representing the plaintiff class:
David A. Vicinanzo
Nathan P. Warecki
NIXON PEABODY LLP
100 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110
Susan B. Church
DEMISSIE & CHURCH
929 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 01
Cambridge, MA 02139
Jesse M. Bless
THE LAW OFFICES OF JEFF GOLDMAN LLP
125 Washington Street, Ste. 204
Salem, MA 01970
Oren N. Nimni
Lawyers‘ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice
61 Batterymarch Street, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110
Howard M. Cooper
Joseph M. Cacace
TODD & WELD LLP
One Federal Street, 27th Floor
Boston, MA 02110