National Center for Youth Law

Press Releases

Court Finds that the Federal Government is Failing to Comply with Order Regarding the Release of Immigrant Children

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 22, 2020

Contact: Patty Guinto, 626.512.4974, pguinto@youthlaw.org

Oakland, CAToday, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee scrutinized the Federal Government’s failure to release immigrant children in ORR and ICE custody to eligible sponsors in light of the heightened health risk caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dozens of immigrant children in federal custody across the country have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Given the growing concerns being raised about the impact of COVID-19 on children, it is unfathomable to us that ORR is letting children languish in federal custody when they have fully vetted family members ready to care for them,” said Leecia Welch, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy & Child Welfare at the National Center for Youth Law. “We are hopeful that the Court’s ever-increasing scrutiny on the reasons for ORR’s on-going delays will result in more children being promptly released.”

On April 24, Judge Gee ordered that the Federal Government comply with the Flores Settlement Agreement and release children without unnecessary delay to eligible sponsors. The court additionally found that ORR’s fingerprint-based checks for certain sponsor categories violated the Settlement’s terms, and required the ORR & ICE Juvenile Coordinators to submit monthly reports documenting their compliance with the court’s order.

Today, Judge Gee’s updated order highlighted issues with Defendant’s compliance and noted deficiencies in the Juvenile Coordinator’s recently-submitted reports. The court specifically noted that “[c]ontrary to the April 24, 2020 Order, ORR has not provisionally released any minors whose vetted sponsors are unable to obtain fingerprints due to pandemic-related closures.” Pending the Government’s response, the court ordered the provisional release of one minor whose release has been delayed solely due to fingerprinting.

The court also found that ICE had shown a lack of compliance with Paragraph 18 of the Settlement, which requires Defendants to “make and record the prompt and continuous efforts on its part toward family reunification and the release of the minor,” and that the information submitted by ICE justifying the continued detention of children was “cursory” and “vague.” The court also noted ongoing concern with the implementation of public health guidelines at the Family Residential Centers, given the multiple declarations submitted by legal advocates detailing the unsanitary conditions of the FRCs and listing detained minors with pre-existing health conditions.

Judge Gee’s new order requires:

  • The ORR and ICE Juvenile Coordinators to file updated reports by June 8;
  • The provisional release of minor J.M.A., whose release had been unnecessarily delayed by fingerprinting;
  • The parties to meet and confer regarding appropriate protocols to inform detained guardians about their children’s rights under the Settlement; and
  • Enhanced monitoring of the Family Residential Centers’ care of children.

READ THE ORDER: May 22 Flores Order

Today’s order comes in response to a motion filed by NCYL and co-counsel (Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and the Immigration Law Clinic of the U.C. Davis School of Law) to enforce the Flores Settlement Agreement, which governs the conditions under which immigrant children may be detained.

Judge Gee will continue to monitor the government’s compliance with her orders at a hearing on June 19. We remain hopeful that the government will fulfill its obligations to safely and expeditiously release immigrant children to their sponsors and keep children in custody safe from COVID-19, as required by the Flores Settlement Agreement.