Lawyers representing thousands of families separated at the southern border during the Trump administration’s crackdown have reached a settlement with the federal government that puts immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. on a path to permanent legal citizenship.
The agreement, filed Monday in federal court in San Diego, ends years of negotiations that were part of a class-action lawsuit seeking damages from family separations that took place in 2017 and 2018.
The policy was a key component of the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on unauthorized immigration. Children were systematically taken from their parents, sent to shelters and foster homes across the country, and the parents were criminally charged for entering the country illegally.
Its purpose is to provide a powerful deterrent to families planning to come to the United States, even asylum seekers. Several thousand foreign-born children were said to have been taken from their parents. It later emerged that hundreds of US-born children who crossed the border to immigrant parents were also subject to the policy.
The images and audio from the children’s parents sparked outrage and criticism, eventually sparking several lawsuits, including a class-action lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.
Three-quarters of the separated families have either been reunited or provided information needed to start the reunification process, a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.
If approved by the judge overseeing the case, the class action settlement would allow the families to legally live and work in the United States while they await a decision on their asylum claims. Separated parents and children already in the United States can petition to bring immediate family members from their home countries.
“This agreement helps reunite separated families and provides critical services to aid their recovery,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.
Families previously refused asylum will be eligible to reapply, and asylum officials will be advised by the government to consider the trauma of forced separation. Families who prevail in their asylum cases — which typically take years before a decision is made — become eligible for green cards and eventually U.S. citizenship.
“While these families may never be made whole again or the moral stain of this abhorrent policy washed away, we are happy for all the children who have suffered and lost sight of their parents for years, and the families who receive the benefits of immigration. families who will have a meaningful opportunity to stay in the United States,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union, lead counsel on the class action lawsuit.
The deal, negotiated by the Justice Department, is now in favor of Judge Dana M. of the U.S. District Court in San Diego. goes before Sabra, who oversaw the case. A trial is scheduled for December.
“When we came up with this case, no one thought it would involve thousands of children, take us to many countries in search of families or last for years,” said Mr. Gelernt said.
Parents were imprisoned for entering the country illegally and their children were sent to shelters or foster homes as young as 6 months old. Most of the divisions occurred in the spring of 2018 and lasted several weeks. But, in some cases, they extended over several years as parents were deported without their children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics called the initiative “cruel cruelty.”
Some young children do not After an order issued by Justice Sabra in June 2018, identify their parents who were reunited by US authorities. Because of poor records by federal agencies, other parents and children cannot be found, delaying reunification.
The settlement largely restricts future separations if the parent has committed misconduct or serious crimes, and the settlement requires all separations to be documented in databases shared among federal agencies.
Although many separated families have been reunited and many deported parents have returned to the United States, hundreds of families have yet to be located.
Shortly after taking office, President Biden established a task force to develop a process to find parents who have not been reunited with their children after being deported to countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The families’ lawyers and state prosecutors negotiated financial compensation for the damages caused by the separation. But negotiations stalled and eventually collapsed in October 2021 after a leak revealed the Justice Department was willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to each family.
Following that revelation, only class action negotiations continued, and a government task force continued to work with the ACLU and advocacy groups to reunite the families.
However, some lawsuits seeking monetary damages are pending in federal courts, alleging government negligence, abuse, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Seamus Hughes And Elaine Sullivan Research contributed.