child detention

The Path to Justice: Unpacking the Settlements in Migrant Family Separation Cases

In a significant development in immigration law, the Biden administration has made strides toward settling lawsuits related to the harrowing experiences of migrant families under the previous administration's zero-tolerance policy. This policy, notoriously known for its harsh enforcement, led to the traumatic separation of children from their parents at the U.S. southern border. The events of 2018 have culminated in a series of lawsuits aimed at redressing the profound emotional and psychological damages suffered by these families.

The settlements pertain to two lawsuits involving several families who alleged serious harm due to their forced separations. Notably, Senior District Judge Susan R. Bolton oversees these cases and has paused litigation deadlines in anticipation of finalizing these settlements. This pause reflects the complexity and sensitivity of the negotiations and underscores the gravity of the families' experiences.

The lawsuits originate from incidents near Yuma, Arizona, where migrant families were apprehended and separated under the zero-tolerance policy. This policy led to a widespread outcry as it prosecuted migrants entering the U.S. unlawfully and imposed separation of children from their parents due to the constraints of the Flores settlement agreement—established in 1997—which dictates the conditions under which children can be detained.

The first group of plaintiffs, known as the C.M. plaintiffs, consists of five mothers and their children who filed their lawsuit in 2019. These plaintiffs seek damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence, with the children involved ranging from 5 to 12 years old at the time of separation. Another set of plaintiffs, identified as the A.P.F. plaintiffs, includes six fathers and their children who presented similar claims, emphasizing the long-term emotional and psychological injuries sustained by the children, who found reconnection with their parents challenging post-reunification.

Further legal arguments have evolved around the Federal Tort Claims Act, where the plaintiffs challenged the government's invocation of sovereign immunity under the discretionary function exception. This legal battle reached a critical point when Judge Bolton denied the government's motion for summary judgment, affirming that the policy interfered substantially with the plaintiffs' right to family integrity and that the policy's implementation appeared inconsistent with its purported objectives.

The complexities of these cases highlight the intricate relationship between immigration enforcement policies and the rights of individuals, emphasizing the legal responsibilities that federal officials have towards those in their custody. Judge Bolton's rulings have brought attention to the significant duty of care that the government owes to families under its jurisdiction, akin to a jailer-prisoner relationship, pointing out that the breach of this duty requires thorough judicial scrutiny.

The upcoming settlements represent a crucial acknowledgment of the missteps in previous immigration policies and provide a pathway for the affected families to receive some form of redress. This development is not just a legal resolution but a moral one, reflecting a broader attempt by the current administration to address past injustices and reform immigration practices to prevent future violations of human rights.

As immigration attorneys, our role extends beyond the courtroom to ensure that the vulnerable are protected and that justice is accessible. This case underscores the importance of legal expertise and vigilant advocacy in challenging policies that infringe upon basic human rights. It also serves as a reminder of the critical role that immigration law plays in upholding the values of justice and family unity.

For those navigating the complexities of immigration issues or seeking redress for wrongful government actions, it is imperative to engage with skilled legal professionals who can effectively advocate for your rights and guide you through the often daunting legal landscape.


Rae Ann Varona, "Feds Agree To Settle Damages Over 2018 Migrant Separations," Law360, April 11, 2024.

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