Uphold and Expand the Rights of Detained Immigrant Youth

NCYL seeks to establish a robust legal landscape that upholds and expands the rights of immigrant children in federal custody. 

Children in government systems, such as foster care or the juvenile legal system, are afforded certain legal protections from state and federal laws and policies.. However, children in federal immigration custody have only a patchwork of modest and rudimentary protections. 

Amongst these protections is the Flores Settlement Agreement. Signed in 1997, the Flores Settlement established basic standards governing the custody, detention, and release of children in federal immigration custody. The Settlement imposes a floor—not a ceiling—for the services and protections that must be provided to children in federal custody. Most of the protections within the Settlement can be found nowhere in federal law.

The Flores Settlement alone is not enough to ensure that detained immigrant youth are ensured  the rights to which they are entitled and the protections that they deserve for generations to come.

Enforcing children’s constitutional rights through litigation

In addition to serving as Flores counsel and enforcing the Settlement Agreement, our team has also brought additional federal litigation aimed at enforcing the constitutional rights of unaccompanied children in federal immigration custody. 

These cases include Lucas R. v. Azar, which our team filed with co-counsel in June 2018 to deepen and expand protections for the most vulnerable children in federal immigration custody. In addition, NCYL and co-counsel filed Duchitanga v. Hayes in November 2018 to challenge egregious delays in the release of detained immigrant children to their families.

Expanding the rights of children through legislation

NCYL develops and supports federal and state legislation that expands the rights of children in federal immigration custody. For the past several years, NCYL has provided expert guidance to congressional offices regarding the development of the Children's Safe Welcome Act. The bill, introduced by congressional leaders on July 13, 2022, reimagines how children are treated in government custody by prioritizing keeping families together, placing unaccompanied children in family-like settings, and promoting the prompt release of children to minimize the time they spend in custody.

We also provide expert subject matter expertise on issues affecting detained immigrant youth advisors to federal and state congress members, committees, and other stakeholders. NCYL’s legislative and policy recommendations are based on longstanding experience as Flores counsel and interviews with detained youth, deep expertise in the domestic child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and a profound commitment to advancing children’s rights.

Center Youth

Children’s direct experiences with the immigration system drive and inform all of our team’s litigation and legislative work.