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Lawsuit Claims GEO Guards Illegally Separated 13 Fathers And Sons

A San Antonio non-profit that provides legal services to immigrants is suing the private prison company that runs Karnes County Residential Center. Thelawsuit claims the company's employees illegally separated detained immigrant fathers and their sons, causing extreme emotional distress.

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, and two private law firms claim 13 immigrant fathers and sons were separated at the border in June 2018. They were then reunited under a federal district court order, only to be illegally separated again two months later.

RAICES Director of Litigation Manoj Govindaiah said the migrant fathers are suing GEO, the prison company that runs Karnes and employs its guards on behalf of the federal government, for the second separation. Govindaiah says not only was it illegal, it was unnecessarily forceful.

“They dragged several of the dads from their rooms with such force that in a couple of situations the dads’ shoes were pulled off by the dragging,” Govindaiah said. “They used plastic, zip-tie handcuffs on the dads to force them out of their rooms and into a separate holding area.”

Govindaiah says the tactics were intended to terrify the fathers and children.

“The dads reported armed guards. They reported guards with bullet proof vests. They reported guards with masks, suggesting some sort of chemical agent might be used presumably to subdue any families that were resisting,” Govindaiah said.

The lawsuit further claims GEO guards then traumatized the fathers and sons, who were traumatized by the June separation at the border, by claiming they would never see each other again.

The fathers were taken to a detention center in Pearsall for two days, then returned to Karnes and reunited with their sons. But Govindaiah said the damage was done, and the fathers want GEO to be held accountable.

“We are seeking damages for GEO's actions. We are alleging that by reseparating these families in violation of that federal court order, that GEO committed intentional and negligent emotional distress, that they committed assault and battery against these families, false imprisonment...that they committed infractions of medical ethics,” Govindaiah said.

The GEO Group issued a statement on the lawsuit saying they “deny the baseless allegations” made against their staff.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement also issued a statement saying the organization does not comment on pending litigation.

GEO has several weeks to respond to the lawsuit in court.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.