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Migrant families file lawsuit over emotional trauma from Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy

Continuing psychological devastation caused by family separations, the lawsuit says.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18:  Activists, including childcare providers, parents and their children, protest against the Trump administrations recent family detention and separation policies for migrants along the southern border, near the New York offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), July 18, 2018 in New York City. On Wednesday, the GOP-led House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting ICE and denounced calls by some Democrats and progressive activists to abolish ICE. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18: Activists, including childcare providers, parents and their children, protest against the Trump administrations recent family detention and separation policies for migrants along the southern border, near the New York offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), July 18, 2018 in New York City. On Wednesday, the GOP-led House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting ICE and denounced calls by some Democrats and progressive activists to abolish ICE. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Migrant families separated at the US-Mexican border under President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy have suffered “life-altering” emotional trauma, according to a lawsuit demanding that the government provide counseling for those affected.

The federal class action lawsuit was filed last week by families torn asunder at the US-Mexico border under the administration’s family separation policy, CNN reported.

The administration abandoned its zero tolerance policy amid a public furor, but many children languished for weeks in detention. Some are being held still apart from their parents, who in some cases have been deported back to their home countries in Central America.

ABC News said in a report last week that the lawsuit seeks to create a fund that will pay for therapy for some 2,000 traumatized children who were ripped away from their parents.

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The report recounts numerous cases of children displaying anxiety and other symptoms of emotional and psychological injury, long after being returned to their parents, after separations lasting weeks or even months.

Meanwhile, as ThinkProgress reported last week, some 400 children — more than a dozen of whom are younger than five — remain apart from their parents. Experts say such prolonged separations can cause untold damage to children, particularly infants and pre-schoolers.

The head of the American Academy of Pediatrics told CNN in June that the family separation policy, which the Trump administration has since abandoned, amounts to “nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse.”

“It’s creating a whole generation of kids who are traumatized,” Dr. Colleen Kraft told CNN.

A study this past June by the Kaiser Family Foundation illustrated just how damaging family separations can be, particularly on the developing brains and fragile psyches of very young children.

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“Separating children from their parents exposes them to trauma and toxic stress that can have lifelong negative impacts on their mental and physical health,” the report read.

“Detention, for even brief periods, has short- and long-term negative effects on the health of parents and children. Studies show high levels of psychiatric distress, including depression and post-traumatic stress, among detained asylum seekers, even after short detention periods, and that symptoms worsen over time.”

Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a position paper last year which concluded that young children should never, ever be placed in detention centers like the ones scattered across the country, where the Trump administration has housed thousands of migrant children.

“Studies of detained immigrants, primarily from abroad, have found negative physical and emotional symptoms among detained children and posttraumatic symptoms do not always disappear at the time of release,” the report said.

“Young detainees may experience developmental delay and poor psychological adjustment, potentially affecting functioning in school,” it said, adding that “expert consensus has concluded that even brief detention can cause psychological trauma and induce long-term mental health risks for children.”

One would think that the Trump administration — faced with the prospect of permanent emotional damage to thousands of young children — might have heeded these dire warning from groups that monitor children’s health and wellbeing. Sadly, that is not the case.

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As Think Progress reported, the administration on Friday proposed new rules that would allow the government to detain migrant children for even longer periods while their parents face immigration court.

That could mean millions of dollars more in psychological counseling, and the far higher and more tragic cost of traumatized young lives forever ruined.