Biden Administration Agrees to Settlement with ACLU in Family Separation Case

photo by Vince Reinhart

Special to the Vanguard

New York – The ACLU reached a major settlement on Monday involving its years-long lawsuit on behalf of thousands of traumatized children and parents who were forcibly torn from each other under the Trump administration’s illegal zero-tolerance practice of separating families at the border.

The settlement would remain in effect for six years, according to a DOJ official on call with reporters on Monday.  He indicated that a federal judge would have to review and sign off on the deal.

“The agreement also sets forth procedures for keeping track of the whereabouts of separated family members, and ensuring that that information is shared in the limited circumstances where separations will be permitted,” the DOJ official said.

Biden administration officials did not defend the policy.

“The practice of separating families at the southwest border was shameful,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “This agreement will facilitate the reunification of separated families and provide them with critical services to aid in their recovery.”

Details of the settlement announced Monday:

  • An estimated 4,500-5,000 children and their parents will be covered under this settlement.
  • The government will continue to identify families that were separated, fund their reunification in the U.S., and provide a pathway for them to seek asylum here.
  • Families will have access to benefits to get them on their feet, such as work authorization, housing and legal assistance, and medical services.
  • An essential component of the settlement is the government’s agreement that it could not reenact the zero-tolerance policy moving forward.

According to the ACLU, “family separation marked one of the most horrific and high-profile issues of the Trump-era.”

During that time, they said:

  • Thousands of children, including babies and toddlers, were ripped from their parents’ arms with little or no warning.
  • Children were sent to facilities thousands of miles away from their parents. The separated families were not told when — or even if — they would ever see each other again. Many children and parents did not see each other again for a year or more.
  • The government’s care and tracking of the separated children was so deficient that when a federal court finally ordered the government to reunify families, government officials were unable to identify which child belonged to which parent.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, medical professionals, and leading child welfare organizations publicly denounced the forced separation of children from their parents, citing the long-lasting, detrimental effects on children’s emotional growth and cognitive development.

The ACLU challenged the policy in its Ms. L v. ICE lawsuit and won a nationwide injunction in 2018 that ended the family separation practice. The ACLU has worked to reunify families ever since.

“The ACLU has settled hundreds of lawsuits in our 103-year history, but none more important than this one,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “To America’s enduring shame, we tore children from the arms of their families to enact a xenophobic agenda. This settlement closes the darkest chapter of the Trump administration, but as welcomed as it is, the damage inflicted on these families will forever be tragic and irreversible.”

“When we brought this lawsuit, no one thought it would involve thousands of children, take us to so many countries searching for families, or last for years,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and lead attorney in the lawsuit said.

Gelernt added, “While no one would ever claim that this settlement can wholly fix the harm intentionally caused to these little children, it is an essential beginning. This settlement provides significant benefits to thousands of families, and an indispensable component bars the government from reenacting the zero-tolerance policy in the future.”

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