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Immigrant Children File Lawsuit to End Cruel Government Detention Policies
As Federal Government Attacks Flores Settlement Agreement, Complaint Seeks Due Process for Immigrant Children

For more than 20 years, there has been an agreement that detaining immigrant children is harmful, that the government is ill-equipped to care for children in its custody, and that all efforts should be made to obtain their earliest possible release to family members. This applies not only to those children who have been separated from their families at the border but the more than 8,000 unaccompanied children currently in detention.

The 1997 Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Reno set national standards for the placement of minors in the custody of what was then Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and, importantly, imposed obligations on INS with respect to the treatment of such minors. INS’s obligations under the agreement are now the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The Agreement requires the federal government to “treat minors with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability.” It compels the government to safely place children with a relative or family friend “without unnecessary delay” and to keep children who are in custody in the least restrictive conditions possible.

The experience of children held in immigration detention and the many harms they have been subjected to demonstrate the wisdom of this approach.

On June 29th, 2018, five immigrant children and two support organizations filed a new federal lawsuit challenging the government’s cruel policies and practices that unlawfully prolong their detention and delay reunification with their families. The lawsuit asks the court to assure that the constitutional rights of these children, specifically their due process rights, are protected. The children in this case are represented by the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), the same co-counsel that filed the 1985 complaint that led to the original Flores Settlement Agreement, and also by the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic and UC Davis Civil Rights Clinic, and Cooley LLP.

According to the complaint:

  • The government regularly confines children in unnecessarily restrictive detention centers on unsubstantiated allegations they are dangerous or constitute a flight risk,
  • The government regularly prolongs children’s detention on the grounds that their parents or other available custodians are allegedly unfit,
  • The government regularly places children in detention facilities where they are administered powerful psychotropic medications for weeks, months, or years, without providing notice to or obtaining the consent of their parents,
  • The government does not provide any meaningful opportunity for the children, their families or sponsors to challenge any of these conditions. As a matter of policy and practice, ORR blocks congressionally funded lawyers from representing these children in legal matters and proceedings involving ORR’s decisions regarding custody, release, medication, and placement.

Individual Plaintiffs:

Miguel Angel has been detained for more than a year despite having a father ready and able to care for him. Miguel Angel has been repeatedly assaulted by facility staff while in ORR custody. When he tried to report the physical assaults by staff, he was transferred to a higher-security facility, where is only allowed outside his cell for a few short periods each day. One time, he had to wash pepper spray out of his eyes with toilet water because facility staff cut off the water to the sink in his cell.

Gabriela experienced extreme violence in El Salvador and fled to the United States fearing for her life. As her confinement has continued, Gabriela has become increasingly depressed and anxious. She has been placed on numerous psychotropic medications, for which ORR has not received her grandfather’s consent. Gabriela does not believe the medications help her, and she does not want to take them, but has been told by facility staff that she must take them in order to be released to her grandfather.

Daniela Marisol, a partially deaf 16-year-old girl, has been detained in ORR custody for nearly 11 months, despite having a sister who is ready and able to care for her. After being separated from her sister at the border, Daniela Marisol suffered from extreme depression and eventually had a psychotic breakdown. Her sister has been told that Daniela Marisol cannot be released to her care unless she can afford to pay for $500 of medical care each month, as well as move to a new house that includes a separate bedroom for Daniela Marisol to use.

Jaime, 13 years old, made the dangerous journey to the United States with his 6-year-old sister and 10-year-old aunt. He was placed in a secure facility for five weeks – a juvenile prison – where he suffered from anxiety and became increasingly sad and scared for his safety.  He was repeatedly hit and bullied due to his young age. During this time, he was especially worried about his younger sister and aunt, who were placed in a separate facility and unable to communicate with him.

Lucas, 12 years old, has been detained in ORR custody for four months, despite having a sister who is ready and able to care for him. As ORR delayed Lucas’s release, Lucas became increasingly depressed. ORR then placed Lucas on psychotropic medication, which hurt his stomach. When Lucas refused to keep taking the medication that hurt his stomach, ORR transferred him to a psychiatric institution, where he has been forced to take a different kind of psychotropic medication. Lucas’s sister has never been asked for her consent for Lucas to be placed on medication, and was not even aware that Lucas had been transferred to a psychiatric institution.