USA: Separated migrant families reject further evaluations

WASHINGTON (HPD) — Parents who filed lawsuits after being separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border are rejecting a Justice Department attempt to require additional psychological evaluations to gauge how traumatized they were by U.S. immigration policy. according to court documents.

The effect of the Trump administration’s policy — which political and religious leaders around the world have called inhumane — has been well documented, and it is unfair to require parents to undergo another round of testing now, lawyers argued. in documents filed Thursday with the court.

One woman testified that she broke down in tears when she was separated from her 7-year-old daughter for what was ultimately more than two months, court documents say. Thousands of children were separated from her parents; some still do not return with them.

Migrants demanding compensation have already undergone other evaluations, but the Justice Department said last month that tests are needed from a government-appointed expert, since the parents say they suffer from permanent mental and emotional damage.

Psychological evaluations of both parties are a routine process in accusations of emotional harm, but the parents’ lawyers say the government has dragged out the process, noting that the tests would bring with them emotional and logistical difficulties, including missing work and having to to hire childminders even though the parents receive low wages.

The effects of family separations have been extensively explored, including by government researchers, who found that children separated from their parents showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. President Joe Biden said during his campaign that the policies were “outrageous, a moral failure and a stain on our national character.”

Trump suspended the practice in June 2018 amid widespread criticism, just days before a judge ordered the program ended in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Parents studied by Physicians for Human Rights, a nonprofit group of doctors that works to document human rights violations, had suicidal thoughts and suffered from various problems, including nightmares, depression, anxiety, panic, worry and difficulty sleeping.

The Justice Department is not requesting that the children be tested again now, but is reserving the right to do so later if necessary. Ultimately, a judge will decide, possibly within weeks, whether the new evaluations will be required.

The requests arose in two cases filed by 11 families. Nearly two dozen similar cases are pending in other courts, and some have already undergone government-mandated psychiatric evaluations. In one South Florida case, a father and his son agreed to take the same test, one that federal prosecutors say is within what is considered appropriate.

There is a separate program to reunite other families, and there are still hundreds that have not been reunited. The Biden administration formed a special group that has reunited some 600 families.

The two sides had been negotiating a deal, but talks fell apart after an initial proposal to pay $450,000 per person was unveiled, which was heavily criticized by Republicans.

Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy meant that any adult who crossed the border illegally would be prosecuted for illegal entry. Because children cannot be incarcerated with their families, the families were separated and the children were taken into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which cares for unaccompanied minors who arrive at the border. No system was created to reunite children with their families.

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