A.I.I.L. et al. v. Sessions et al.

A.I.I.L. on behalf of herself and her minor children, J.A.H.I. and M.E.H.I., et al., No. 4:19-cv-00481-JAS (D. Ariz., filed Oct. 3, 2019)

This lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of thousands of traumatized children and parents who were forcibly torn from each other under the Trump administration’s illegal practice of separating families at the border.

Leading child welfare organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and medical professionals have publicly denounced the forced separation of children from their parents, citing the long-lasting, detrimental effects on children’s emotional growth and cognitive development. Separated parents, meanwhile, face an increased risk of developing mental health disorders, with trauma linked to severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Plaintiffs cited in the complaint include families from Guatemala and Honduras who were separated along the border in Arizona for up to 16 months. In addition to damages, the lawsuit seeks the creation of a fund to pay for professional mental health services for affected families.

The lawsuit, A.I.I.L. v. Sessions, cites violations of the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable seizure of children); the Fifth Amendment due process clause (fundamental right to family integrity; right to a hearing; right to adequate health care); and equal protection (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin).

Defendants include officials from the Departments of Justice, DHS and CBP, Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Settlement, and the White House.

On February 14, 2020, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint, asserting lack of personal jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and qualified immunity. Briefing on that motion is complete. On July 22, 2020, Plaintiffs sought leave to amend their complaint to include their administratively exhausted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claims. Defendants requested that the court defer a decision on Plaintiffs’ motion to amend pending the court’s decision on Defendants’ motion to dismiss. On August 31, 2020 the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to amend and denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss.

On September 3, 2020, Plaintiffs filed their amended complaint. In February 2021, Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint for lack of jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and on qualified immunity grounds. The motions to dismiss are fully briefed and the parties await a decision from the Court.

On May 20, 2021, Plaintiffs sought a stay of the action to facilitate further settlement discussions in hopes of resolving their FTCA claims against the United States. The individual Defendants objected to the stay of the individual-capacity claims. On June 1, 2021, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to hold the motion to dismiss in abeyance and to stay the litigation for a period of sixty days. On August 2, 2021, Plaintiffs filed a second motion to stay the litigation, which the individual Defendants again opposed. On August 16, 2021, the Court granted the motion, ordering another sixty-day stay of the litigation.

Documents:

Counsel: Christine Wee, ACLU of Arizona; Lee Gelernt, Anand Balakrishnan, Daniel Galindo, Stephen Kang, & Spencer Amdur, ACLU Immigrant Rights’ Project; Geoffry R. Chepiga, Jacqueline P. Rubin, Emily Goldberg, Hallie S. Goldblatt, Steven C. Herzog, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Alexander A. Reinert, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Contact: Lee Gelernt | ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project | lgelernt@aclu.org