On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government is required to offer mental health services to the thousands of families who were separated at the border due to President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.
The New York Times reports that Judge John A. Kronstadt of the United States District Court in Los Angeles ordered the federal government to begin providing mental health screenings and treatment to parents and children who were taken away from each other when the now-suspended policy was carried out in 2017 and 2018.
The ruling marks a unique case of holding governments accountable for causing mental trauma through its state-sanctioned practices.
“This is truly groundbreaking,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law, told the newspaper. “The court is recognizing that when a government creates a danger that inflicts trauma, the government is responsible for providing a solution. It is not something I have seen a court do before.”
Under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, people who were caught crossing the border illegally were criminally prosecuted and jailed. To do this, the federal government claimed it was necessary to remove adults from their children. According to the news outlet, in the 11 months that the government was separating families through the policy, nearly 3,000 children were taken from their guardians, many of them Central American youth fleeing violence and poverty.
Among those separated is the lead plaintiff in the case, a Guatemalan mom identified as J.P. Her teenage daughter was taken away from her on May 21, 2018. For 40 days, the woman did not hear from her child, who was being held at a shelter in Phoenix, or know any details about her whereabouts.
The zero-tolerance policy was suspended in June 2018 after massive backlash.
Many of the families impacted by the policy and who could thus benefit from the injunction have been deported, are in immigration court proceedings or are spread out around the country, making it difficult to carry out the mental health services.
Still, the government is expected to appeal the ruling.