WASHINGTON — Dozens of families separated at the border as part of the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy are preparing to sue the federal government, including several who say their young children were sexually, physically or emotionally abused in federally funded foster care.
A review of 38 legal claims obtained by The Associated Press — some of which have never been made public — shows taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $200 million in damages. More than 3,000 migrant children were taken from their parents at the border in recent years and many more lawsuits are expected, potentially totaling in the billions.
The families — some in the U.S., others already deported to Central America — are represented by grass-roots immigration clinics and nonprofit groups, along with some of the country's most powerful law firms. They're making claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act as a precursor to filing lawsuits. The FTCA allows individuals who suffer harm as a direct result of federal employees to sue the government.
“It's the tip of the iceberg” said Erik Walsh, an attorney at Arnold & Porter, which has one of the world's leading pro bono programs.
The firm has so far filed 18 claims on behalf of nine families, totaling $54 million, and Walsh says dozens more are likely. The government has six months to settle FTCA claims from the time they're filed. After that, the claimants are free to file federal lawsuits.
The departments of Justice and Homeland Security, both named in the claims, did not respond to requests for comment.
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