Federal judge in Connecticut rules separation of immigrant families is unconstitutional
A federal judge in Bridgeport Friday found the Trump administration’s separation of two immigrant children, now detained in Connecticut, from their parents at the U.S.- Mexico border to be unconstitutional.
The ruling is the first in the nation to find that separation of families at the border violates the constitutional rights of children, not only their parents, according to Connecticut Legal Services.
The nonprofit legal agency filed an injunction with the Yale Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic against many government departments on behalf of the children. The injunction sought immediate release and reunification of the children and their parents.
But Judge Victor Bolden stopped short of ordering immediate reunification because that matter is being resolved by another court. Reunification of children between ages 5 and 17 with their parents has been ordered by a federal court in California by the end of the month.
“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,” said Joanne Lewis, managing attorney at Connecticut Legal Services.
The judge ordered the government to bring the children’s parents, who have been held in Texas for weeks, to Bridgeport for a conference on July 18. It will be the first time the children have seen their parents in many weeks.
He also ordered daily video conferencing to take place between the children, ages 9 and 14, and their parents. The judge also said the government needs to develop a treatment plan to address the children’s acute post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This ruling is a step in the right direction to ensuring that the two children who are currently located in Connecticut receive the services they need and are reunited with their families post haste,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement Saturday. “But this court decision is hardly consolation for the child abuse inflicted by this president.”
The two children in this case, identified as 14-year-old V.F.B. and 9-year-old J.S.R. in court documents, were removed from their parents in Texas detention centers in May and June, respectively. Since that time, they have been held at Noank Community Support Services Inc., a nonprofit in Groton that contracts with the Department of Health and Human Resources.
They are the only two children who were separated from their parents at the border known to be held in Connecticut now.
Andrés Martin, a professor of child psychology at Yale University, examined the children and determined they suffered from post-traumatic separation disorder and were at risk for additional mental harm if they continued to be separated from their parents, he said in his testimony.
“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,” Bolden wrote.
The two children experienced trauma before the separation. V.F.B. came to the U.S. from El Salvador in May with her mother, after her stepfather was murdered outside the church where they were praying, said Lewis. J.S.R. arrived in the U.S. in mid-June with his father, fleeing Honduras after his grandparents were murdered and the body of his father’s friend was tossed in their backyard.
Both children had their parents taken away without warning: V.F.B. when she was showering, and J.S.R. when he was sleeping. They have spoken to their parents only a handful of times since their separations.
Connecticut Legal Services and Yale filed for an injunction against numerous government entities on the children’s behalf on June 2.
On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the federal courthouse in Bridgeport to demand action in the case while a hearing was held inside.
“These children at the very least deserve to be reunited with their parents,” said Vanesa Suarez of Unidad Latina en Accion, who led the spirited rally attended by about 200 protesters, who chanted anti-immigration-policy slogans and waved placards.
“The system is all messed up — how can you explain it to a 9-year-old?” Suarez said.
Many carried signs with such slogans as “No Ban, No Wall, Liberty and Justice For All,” “Abolish ICE” and “I Object to State-Sponsored Human Rights Abuse.”