Families separated at border push back on new evaluations

Oct 7, 2022, 3:07 PM | Updated: 3:19 pm
FILE - Immigrants seeking asylum who were recently reunited arrive at a hotel in San Antonio, July ...

FILE - Immigrants seeking asylum who were recently reunited arrive at a hotel in San Antonio, July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Parents suing after being separated from their children at the U.S-Mexico border are pushing back against a Justice Department effort to require additional psychological evaluations to measure how much the U.S. policy traumatized them, court documents show.

The effect of the Trump-era policy that was maligned as inhumane by political and religious leaders worldwide has been unusually well-documented, and it’s unfair to require parents to undergo another round of testing now, attorneys argue in court documents filed Thursday.

One woman testified about sobbing as her 7-year-old daughter was taken from her for what turned out to be more than two months, court documents show. Thousands of children were separated from their parents; some have still not been reunited.

The migrants seeking compensation have already undergone other evaluations, but the Justice Department said last month that testing from a government-chosen expert is necessary since the parents are alleging permanent mental and emotional injuries.

Psychological evaluations from both sides are routine in emotional-damages claims, but the parents’ lawyers say the government has dragged out the process, adding that testing would be emotionally and logistically fraught, including taking off work and find childcare on low-wage salaries.

The effects of the family separations have been thoroughly explored, including by government investigators who found children separated from their parents showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said during his campaign that the policies were “an outrage, a moral failing and a stain on our national character.”

Former President Donald Trump stopped the practice in June 2018 amid widespread condemnation, just days before a judge ordered an end to the program in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Parents studied by Physicians for Human Rights, a nonprofit collective of doctors that works to document human rights violations, exhibited suicidal thoughts and suffered a raft of problems including nightmares, depression, anxiety, panic, worry and difficulty sleeping.

The Justice Department isn’t asking for the children to be re-evaluated now, but is reserving the right to do so later if necessary. A judge will eventually decide, possibly within weeks, whether to require the new evaluations.

The requests came in two cases filed by 11 families. Nearly two dozen similar cases are pending in other courts, and some have already submitted to government-requested psychiatric evaluations. In one southern Florida case, a father and child agreed to the same examination, one that federal attorneys say is well within what’s considered appropriate.

There is a separate legal effort to reunite other families, and there are still hundreds who have not been brought back together. The Biden administration has formed a task force that has reunited roughly 600 families.

The two sides had been negotiating a settlement, but talks broke down after early proposal of $450,000 per person was reported and heavily criticized by Republicans.

Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy meant that any adult caught crossing the border illegally would be prosecuted for illegal entry. Because children cannot be jailed with their family members, families were separated and children were taken into custody by Health and Human Services, which manages unaccompanied children at the border. No system was created to reunite children with their families.

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Families separated at border push back on new evaluations