Two Central American children who were taken from their parents at the U.S. border will get legal immigration status for a year, under an unusual settlement with the government.
The 9-year-old boy and the 14-year-old girl were each sent to a group home in Connecticut after being separated from their parents in May, according to Joshua Perry, deputy director of Connecticut Legal Services. He said they were the only two children sent to the state during the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" policy of separating families.
While the ACLU filed a case on behalf of parents to reunite some 2,500 separated families, Connecticut Legal Services and Yale Law School's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic took the unusual strategy of suing on behalf of the two children. They argued the separation caused post traumatic stress disorder. They got a federal judge to reunite the children with their parents in July. But Perry said the kids still needed time to heal before pursuing their asylum claims in immigration court.
"They need to regain that faith in their parents as sources of security and stability," he said. "PTSD is a disease of chaos and disorder and anxiety."
Carolyn O'Connor, a law student intern at Yale Law School's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, said the settlement provides the children with "humanitarian parole," or legal status, for a year.
"So the one year is actually part of their treatment plan," she said, adding that Medicaid will pay for their counseling.
Perry said the boy, who goes by the initials J.S.R., lived through deprivation and tragedy in Honduras before crossing the border with his father. He said the girl, whose initials in court proceedings are V.F.B., witnessed her stepfather's murder by gangsters in Guatemala and came to the U.S. with her mother.
Although the children have a year before pursuing their asylum cases, their parents each have their own immigration cases and lawyers. Perry acknowledged this means it's possible the government could deport them before the children's cases go to court. Still, he said, the case on behalf of the children may set a precedent.
"I think it's so important for advocates across the country to recognize that the government owes these kids and their families a real healing a process because it was our government that put them through this trauma," he said.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment about the settlement.