A team of lawyers with Pillsbury and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area has filed suit pro bono in federal court against the U.S. government on behalf of three indigenous Guatemalan families ripped apart under the family separation policy.

The plaintiffs join a group of 99 plaintiffs who were victims of the family separation policy, which was designed to traumatize migrants. They seek financial reparations for the cruelty purposefully inflicted upon them and for the ongoing trauma from their separation and detention.

The plaintiff parents Eduardo I.T., Ignacio P.G., and Benjamin J.R., and their children, fled persecution and abuse in Guatemala to seek safety within the U.S. Instead, U.S. immigration officials intentionally traumatized them and their children. The government carried out a practice of child disappearance, refusing to provide information about their children’s welfare or whereabouts. While their children wept daily in government-contracted children’s shelters, the parents were left in detention facilities for months without adequate food or water.  

The three plaintiff families were eventually reunited and are now in asylum proceedings in California as they navigate the ongoing harm that impacts their daily lives. While the harm inflicted on them cannot be undone, the plaintiffs seek damages from the U.S. government for the abuse they endured.

“In an attempt to escape persecution, these three families came to the United States in search of peace and safety,” said Dustin Chase-Woods, an associate at Pillsbury in San Francisco. “But instead of experiencing the humane treatment asylum-seeking families are entitled to under the law, these vulnerable individuals were further victimized by a cruel family separation policy that intentionally inflicted even greater trauma on parents and children alike. With this lawsuit, the families are insisting on a measure of justice that a civil lawsuit can provide: compensation for the lasting damage that the government deliberately and callously inflicted.”

The federal lawsuit was filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a law that allows individuals to sue the U.S. government directly for injuries by federal agents. View the complaint here. The case is I.T. et al. v. United States, Case No. 3:22-cv-05333 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 20, 2022).