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Federal Judge Orders Government to Provide Immediate Mental Health Treatment to Immigrant Families Torn Apart by Family Separation Policy

Judge finds that the Government’s policy “caused severe mental trauma to parents and their children” and agrees that the government is responsible for remedying the harm it knowingly caused

LOS ANGELES, NOVEMBER 6, 2019 – In a groundbreaking 50-page order, U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt has ordered the federal government to provide immediate mental health screenings and treatment to thousands of immigrant families who were traumatized by the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. The order, released late yesterday, is the result of a class action lawsuit brought by three refugee mothers who were separated from their children after crossing the U.S. border seeking asylum.

“We brought this lawsuit to hold the government accountable for the devastating consequences of its family separation policy,” said Amy Lally, a Partner with Sidley Austin LLP. “Trauma wasn’t just the byproduct of this policy; it was the intention of this policy. We applaud Judge Kronstadt’s order, and we will keep focused on getting these families the mental health services that they desperately need and deserve.”

In the preliminary injunction order, Judge Kronstadt found that the federal government’s family separation policy placed thousands of families in danger and that “the trauma they experienced . . . will cause irreparable injury unless they are provided with immediate care.” The judge ruled that the government is responsible for remedying the harm it knowingly caused.

Further, he found that the plaintiffs presented evidence that the government’s policy “caused severe mental trauma to parents and their children,” that the government was “aware of the risks associated with family separation when they implemented it”, and that it likely violated the Constitution by “implementing the policy with awareness of the potential harm it would cause and intending to use that as a basis to deter future attempts by those similarly situated to enter the United States.” (preliminary injunction order, pages 40-41).

Ken Berrick, CEO and founder of Seneca Family of Agencies – a national agency known for its community-based treatment services and expertise in working with families that have experienced high levels of trauma – has supported the litigation and provided expert insight during the proceedings.

“Reunification of family members in itself does not ameliorate the consequences of family separation and the trauma that it caused,” said Mr. Berrick. “We know that it will take years of intensive support and treatment to address the trauma caused by the separation, and the impact that it is going to have on the parents’ and children’s mental health.”

The plaintiffs, represented by Sidley Austin LLP and Public Counsel, filed their complaint in July 2018, seeking family-centered mental health services to address the psychological trauma and severe harm inflicted by the family separation policy. This was the first class action filed by migrant parents supported by expert declarations from over a dozen of the nation’s leading child trauma experts.

“The government set out to first destroy, then weaponize the sacred bond between parent and child,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law. “That’s not just unconstitutional – it’s inhumane and un-American.”

Read the Preliminary Injunction HERE.


Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and foster economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy.

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