Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Thousands of advocates, activists, and community members flooded the streets at Foley Square in New York City on July 12, 2019.

Thousands of advocates, activists, and community members flooded the streets at Foley Square in New York City on July 12, 2019. (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Honduran Family Sues US Govt for Separation Lawyers Say Was Deliberately Meant to 'Torment and Traumatize'

"These federal agents made a choice, a cruel and heinous choice, to deliberately inflict pain and trauma upon a family seeking refuge."

Andrea Germanos

A new lawsuit filed on behalf of a Honduran family is challenging what lawyers claim was deliberate cruelty on the part of the U.S. government and a federal contractor when the family's members were detained for over a month, ill treatment that the suit claims caused lasting harm.

New York-based Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) and law firm Loevy & Loevy filed the lawsuit (pdf) last week in the Chicago-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for Lucinda Padilla-Gonzales and her two children. The filing names as defendants the federal government, the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, and Heartland Human Care Services, Inc.

Federally contracted Heartland ran the now shuttered Casa Guadalupe shelter—which had been the subject of abuse allegations— in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines where the children, then 5 and 14 years old, were detained as their mother was held over 1,000 miles away at an ICE facility in Texas.

"Make no mistake: federal immigration agents did not have to wrest two children from their mother and deny them so much as a phone call for more than a month," Anand Swaminathan, an attorney with Loevy & Loevy, said in a statement Friday. "These federal agents made a choice, a cruel and heinous choice, to deliberately inflict pain and trauma upon a family seeking refuge."

According to the lawsuit, Padilla-Gonzales and her children, who were fleeing political violence directed at them, were separated—"without warning or explanation"—by federal agents upon their entry to the U.S., keeping them in separate facilities for over one month. The agents took that action with a purpose in mind, according to the lawsuit:

Out of a desire to deliberately inflict cruelty upon a Latino family from Central America, federal agents dragged 14-year old D.A. and 5-year old A.A. away from their mother, crying and screaming, and shipped them off to a shelter far away.

The children's father was already in the U.S., but the government chose to detain the children rather than reunite them with him.

The separation caused "immense trauma" to the three asylum-seekers, the lawsuit states. "The government intended this cruelty," the claim continues, "in order to coerce Lucinda to give up their rights, including her and her children’s asylum claims, and leave the United States."

The alleged cruelty imposed by the shelter included preventing the children from calling their mother, failing to address the trauma they entered the facility with, and imposing upon them "a regimented existence in which they were denied basic features of childhood," including preventing the siblings from hugging each other.

From the lawsuit:

The United States also recklessly disregarded Lucinda's physical safety and health during her detention. Government agents confiscated crutches that a hospital in the United States had provided to help Lucinda recover from a leg injury, caused her to suffer a traumatic brain injury while being transported in a government vehicle, and ignored medical advice from doctors, deciding to "treat" her head injuries with ibuprofen despite doctors having recommended that she be cared for at a hospital.

The separation of the family members, the filing asserts, was "inflicted deliberately because of their race and national original" and imposed "to torment and traumatize the family" to the point of making them abandon their asylum claims.

The separation had a broader message than to just the Padilla-Gonzales family—"it also served to deter families from Central American countries like Honduras from seeking asylum in the United States," the suit adds.

"This is a critical time to stand up for the rights of asylum seekers," ASAP staff attorney Zachary Manfredi said in a statement. "Our clients seek to hold the government and government contractors accountable for abuses in detention and hope that this case will bring those abuses to light."

Swaminathan added that "the family is bringing this lawsuit to fight for the truth and to demand justice."

"Their courage is to be admired," he said.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Poll: Overwhelming Majority of US Voters Want Robust Regulation of Tech Companies

"When it comes to Big Tech's monopoly power and surveillance business model, the public is unified: They want action. They want to see the Big Tech companies broken up and users' privacy protected."

Brett Wilkins ·


228 Republicans Blasted for Brief Urging Supreme Court to Overturn Roe v. Wade

"Every single politician who signed this amicus brief is actively working to strip away our fundamental freedoms and endanger pregnant people and families across the country."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Historic Victory': Bayer to End US Residential Sales of Glyphosate-Based Herbicides

"As agricultural, large-scale use of this toxic pesticide continues, our farmworkers remain at risk. It's time for EPA to act and ban glyphosate for all uses."

Kenny Stancil ·


73 Major Corporations Paid Just 5.3% Federal Tax Rate Between 2018 and 2020: Report

Thirty-nine other companies paid no federal corporate tax during the three-year period, in which they collectively reaped over $120 billion in profits.

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Asks Congress to Act to Prevent Evictions—Just 3 Days Before Moratorium Expires

"These calls should have come weeks ago, not 72 hours before the moratorium expires."

Jake Johnson ·