Immigrant Family Separation Amounts to Torture, Crimes Against Humanity, Attorneys Argue in Court

March 5, 2021, New York – Today, attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights urged a federal court to deny the Biden administration’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit over alleged torture under Trump’s “zero tolerance” and family spearation policy. “Mr. C.” and his then-19-month-old son “D.J.C.V.” were detained and forcibly separated for nearly six months after seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. They are going by their initials in the litigation for privacy. Though a federal judge eventually ruled that their separation was unconstitutional and ordered them reunited, they are suing for accountability and damages for their suffering from the brutality of the policy. The lawsuit argues that Trump’s policies amounted to torture under international law and crimes against humanity as established at Nuremberg.

“The world was shocked by the grotesque cruelty of the Trump family separation policy, which was designed to inflict maximal pain on non-white immigrant families,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Ghita Schwarz.  “The harms have not passed. The United States must be held accountable for the torment our government intentionally caused to Black and Brown people seeking refuge.” 

Mr. C. and his son arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border from Honduras in April 2018, seeking asylum and other immigration protections under U.S. and international law. Central to the case is the claim that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” and family separation policy constituted torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Human rights attorneys argue that knowingly causing and Mr. C. and his son to endure wrenching trauma as punishment for seeking asylum, and to coerce and deter others from seeking similar relief, causing them severe mental pain or suffering, meets the statutory and international law definitions of torture. The risk of psychological damage is particularly acute and lasting in the case of Mr. C.’s son, who turned two years old in detention and who remained in detention, alone, without any access to his father, in a foreign country, with little or no ability to communicate in any language. His situation was so precarious that if judicial relief were not granted immediately, there was a strong risk that he might not remember his father or be able to re-establish a familial bond with his father – or any other family member – because he had already spent a substantial portion of his life in detention in the United States. Seven amicus briefs, by human rights organizations and scholars, were submitted in support of Mr. C. and his son. 

Said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy: “We are seeking judicial confirmation, as at the U.S.-led Nuremberg trials, that international law condemns the United States policy of torture and systematic cruelty toward these families. These human rights principles require this country to provide accountability to our clients and others for these historic crimes.” 

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

March 25, 2021