On Monday, July 16, CLS and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School successfully won release and reunification for two immigrant families who were detained and forcibly separated after they came to the United States seeking asylum.
CLS and the clinic filed emergency federal lawsuits on July 2 on behalf of 9-year-old JSR and 14-year-old VFB, who were detained in Connecticut by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. The children escaped persecution and violence in their home countries of Honduras and El Salvador only to be taken from their parents as part of the Trump Administration’s illegal “zero tolerance policy."
The lawsuits, filed in the District Court of Connecticut, cited constitutional and statutory grounds, including the constitutional right to family integrity, in challenging the government practices that resulted in the harrowing dismantling of thousands of asylum-seeking families.
On July 13, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Bolden responded to the lawsuits by holding that the government’s conduct inflicted deep trauma and violated the children's due process rights. The judge ordered the government to act immediately to remedy the trauma it caused the children. Three days later, the government transferred the parents from Texas to Connecticut, granted them parole, and reunited them with their children.
These are the first cases in the country brought by children, rather than parents, to challenge the Trump Administration’s forcible family separation policy. They are also the first cases in which a federal court held that the government’s systematic dissolution of immigrant families violates the children’s constitutional rights.
At CLS, the children were represented by a team that included Managing Attorney Joanne Lewis and staff attorneys Massiel Zucco-Himmelstein and Kelly Bonafe. “This is a victory for two families and for an entire community in Connecticut that united behind these children and in support of our state’s basic values of freedom, fairness, and family,” said attorney Zucco-Himmelstein. “We look forward to a time when every immigrant child has the kind of support and advocacy that won freedom for JSR and VFB.”
CLS began representing JSR and VFB as part of its ongoing advocacy on behalf of children who are detained at a federally-contracted shelter in eastern Connecticut. For more than a year, CLS has been visiting the shelter several times a month to meet with, and advocate for, the children who are detained there. Until May of this year, those children were all unaccompanied minors -- children who came to the U.S. border without any parents or guardians. To date, JSR and VFB are the only children to arrive in Connecticut who were forcibly separated from their parents after crossing the border.