U.S. Must Provide Mental Health Services to Families Separated at Border – The New York Times

“The question is,” he said, “what happens from here and can it be enforced? I assume the government will appeal and get the order stayed because it’s brand new. They’ll say the judge got it wrong.”

The family separations were a key part of the Trump administration’s effort to deter migrant families at the southwestern border, where they have been arriving in large numbers, most of them fleeing violence and deep poverty in Central America.

Under the zero-tolerance policy, those who crossed the border illegally were criminally prosecuted and jailed, a process that the government said could not be carried out without removing their children.

The federal government had reported that nearly 3,000 children were forcibly removed from their parents under the policy. An additional 1,556 migrant families were separated between July 2017 and June 2018, the government said last month.

President Trump suspended the policy in June 2018 amid a public outcry, and a federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunify the families.

But Judge Kronstadt found that the government had taken “affirmative steps to implement the zero-tolerance policy,” and that its implementation had caused “severe mental trauma to parents and their children.”

Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer with Public Counsel, which brought the case along with the law firm Sidley Austin, said the judge had found that the separation policy violated the families’ constitutional rights.

“You cannot have a policy of deliberately trying to injure a family bond,” he said. “Cruelty cannot be part of an enforcement policy, and here it was the cornerstone of the policy.”

Government lawyers had argued that it could not be held liable for mental health problems that might occur in the future, and that there had been no proof of existing irreparable harm to any of those subjected to the policy.

Further, they said that any harm that might have occurred was quickly abated when families were reunited.

The government declined to comment on the court’s ruling.

The lead plaintiff in the case, a Guatemalan migrant identified as J.P., was separated from her teenage daughter at the border on May 21, 2018. For more than a month, the mother said, she had no idea of her child’s whereabouts. They spoke for the first time after they had been apart for 40 days, and only because a lawyer encountered J.P. during a visit to the detention center in Irvine, Calif., where she was being held.

Until then, no one had explained to her in a language she could understand — she speaks a Mayan language — what had happened to her daughter, according to her lawyer, Judy London, who is with Public Counsel. Her daughter, 16, had been sent to a shelter in Phoenix.

“Despite her obvious terror and inability to comprehend what was happening around her, no one made sure she had understood information about how she could contact her daughter,” Ms. London said in a declaration filed with the court.

“To the contrary, the guards insisted she needed no help and could on her own use phones to reach her daughter,” she said.

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