Many of us are familiar with the movie Sophie’s Choice, in which a mother is forced to pick between her two children at Auschwitz, but couldn’t imagine that becoming reality. This week, a 3-year-old girl—also named Sofi—was thrown into a real-life version of same nightmare that won Meryl Streep an oscar: Sofi was forced to choose which parent could stay, and which got deported.
Sofi and her family fled Honduras after Sofi’s mother Tania witnessed her mother get murdered by the notorious MS-13 gang. Tania’s sister-in-law, who had also witnessed the murder, had already been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in attempts to prevent her from testifying. When a note stating the family had 45 minutes to leave was posted on their front door, Tania and her husband took their three children and came to seek asylum in the U.S., where Tania believed her children could have opportunities and an education.
While being held at a Border Control facility in El Paso, Texas, an agent approached the family and informed them only one parent would be allowed to stay, while the other would be sent to Mexico. The agent then turned to the youngest of the family’s children, 3-year-old Sofi, and asked the young girl which parent she wanted to stay with her. Through a translator, mother Tania told NPR that “because [Sofi] is more attached to me, she said mom. But when they started to take [my husband] away, the girl started to cry. The officer said, ‘You said [you want to go] with mom.’ “
This was already the family’s third attempt at seeking asylum. As part of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocol— which “requires thousands of Central American migrants to wait in dangerous cities in Northern Mexico while their immigration cases are handled by U.S. courts”—the family has been sent back to Juárez, Mexico twice, in both April and June.
Sofi, who suffers from a serious heart condition, has already suffered a heart attack at the age of three. Migrant protection protocols state people with “known physical or mental health issues” are exempt, yet Border Patrol has now sent Sofi and her family back to Mexico not once but twice, clearly breaking their own rules.
It is this same inhumane and immoral treatment Sofi and her family experienced that is leading a group of mothers to sue the Trump administration for $3 million each.
One of these mothers taking legal action is Patricia. After seeking asylum in the U.S., she and her 6-year-old son had just crossed the Rio Grande into Texas when border control agents took away her son. For weeks, Patricia was convinced she would never see her son again. Although the two were eventually reunited, Patricia had already experienced too much trauma to move on and decided she wanted the U.S. government to pay for what they put her family through.
Former California deputy attorney general Maggy Krell has taken on the case, and will argue—alongside Patricia—that the U.S. government had intended to inflict emotional distress onto families when they separated them. Krell plans to make this assertion under the the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows people to sue the U.S. government for misconduct.
Around a dozen other immigrant parents who faced similar treatment join Patricia and Krell in the process of making claims. Government data current shows around 2,700 children may have been separated from parents or guardians, making it likely more parents will join in on the lawsuits. For others, though, the fear of scrutiny or backlash that would hurt their fight for legal status will keep them silent, while some have already been deported.
No matter the case, the treatment down at the border is horrific, with reports stating people have gone over 40 days without showering or brushing their teeth—treatments harsher than prisons. The conditions at the border are unsanitary, inhumane and cruel.
The Trump administration seems to have forgotten that these are human beings who have done nothing but come to seek better lives for their families and children. The people at these camps are not prisoners, but innocent, hardworking and good people who felt they had no other options.
We need to continue to fight for more humane treatment at the border, as well as take legislative action to get better immigration reform.
If you would like help families at the border, click here for a list of ways to help or find an organization to donate to.