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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Federal Judge Holds Forcible Separation of Immigrant Children Unconstitutional

On July 13, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Bolden declared unconstitutional the federal government’s forcible separation of two immigrant children from their parents, and ordered the government to take immediate steps to ameliorate the grave harm it has caused.

The plaintiffs are represented by Connecticut Legal Services and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School.

Judge Bolden’s decision is the first ruling in the country to find that the government’s cruel and illegal family separation scheme violates the constitutional rights of children, and not just parents. The ruling was issued in the cases of two children detained in Connecticut who filed suit in federal court on July 2 to challenge their forced separation under the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance policy.”

Holding that the separation violated the children’s due process rights, and finding that the children are suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the government’s conduct, the court ordered the government to act immediately to address the trauma it has caused the children. Specifically, the court ordered the government to produce the children’s parents in Bridgeport at a July 18 status conference; provide daily video-conferencing between the children and their parents; and propose a treatment plan to begin healing the wounds inflicted by the government’s actions.

At that status conference, the children and their parents will see each other for the first time in months. Plaintiff V.F.B., a 14-year-old girl who fled El Salvador, last saw her mother in May. While V.F.B. and her mother were detained in an immigration facility in Texas government officials led the girl away to shower, and when she returned, her mother was gone. Plaintiff J.S.R., a 9-year-old boy who escaped persecution in Honduras, has not seen his father since June, when they were separated while the boy slept. Until the filing of their lawsuit, the children were held virtually incommunicado from their parents.

The court’s ruling was in response to emergency motions filed by the plaintiffs and followed a hearing held on July 11. At that hearing, Dr. Andrés Martin, a child psychiatrist, testified that the government’s forcible separation of the children from their parents had caused them to suffer PTSD and put them at risk of grave short- and long-term physical and mental health consequences that will not remit on their own. “J.S.R. and V.F.B. are entitled to relief to address the consequences of the Government’s unconstitutional separation of them from their parents, a harm, based on Dr. Martin’s unrebutted testimony, likely to continue even after family reunification,” the court wrote.

“Judge Bolden’s ruling acknowledges the deep harm that the government inflicted on V.F.B. and J.S.R. by forcibly separating them from their parents,” said Hannah Schoen ’19, a law student intern with the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic. “The children must be brought back together with their loving parents in an environment where they are safe, comforted, and stress-free—in the community, not in a tent city in the desert,” Schoen said.

“We are heartened that the children will finally get to see their parents again, but the harm they have suffered will only be fully addressed by the swift reunification and release of these two families,” stated Joanne Lewis, Managing Attorney of Connecticut Legal Services’ New Britain office and the head of its immigration unit. “We will keep fighting for the families’ release and reunification and appreciate the strong support that Connecticut has shown for them, their parents, and all families that have been torn apart,” Lewis said.

The cases are J.S.R. v. Sessions, Case No. 3:18-cv-01106-VAB, and V.F.B. v. Sessions, Case No. 3:18-cv-01110-VAB. View the court’s decision, and read more about the cases, at http://ctlegal.org/freeourkids/.


Connecticut Legal Services is Connecticut’s largest nonprofit law firm, dedicated to improving the lives of low-income people by providing access to justice. CLS’ free legal assistance and advocacy help vulnerable people meet their basic needs and escape poverty. CLS is the lawyer for immigrant children who are detained without their parents at Connecticut’s federally-contracted children’s shelter.

The Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, a part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale School, represents immigrants, low-wage workers, and their organizations in labor, immigration, civil rights, and other matters.