A federal judge has found that the government’s policy of moving unaccompanied immigrant children to restrictive facilities, including juvenile detention centers, without an appeals process is bad for the children’s mental health and a violation of their rights under a 25-year-old settlement agreement.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement will now have to provide “clear and convincing” data when deciding to send a minor to a more restrictive placement.
The resettlement office is responsible for the custody and release of such unaccompanied immigrant children, and the judge held that it violated the rights of the children in federal custody, as spelled out in the 1997 Flores settlement agreement. The landmark Flores settlement established standards for the custody, detention and release of children in federal immigration custody. The government has had trouble fully complying with the terms across several administrations.
Holding that the government agency’s policies and procedures “fall short of its constitutional and statutory obligations in several specific ways,” U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee, who presides over the case in California’s Central District, ordered last month that the agency set and abide by clear standards when determining whether to transfer a child to jail-like facilities. Gee also ordered the resettlement office to set up a way for children and their families to access due process, including legal representation and the ability to appeal when the resettlement agency refuses to release children to their families.
Known as Lucas R. v. Azar, the case was filed in 2018 by the National Center for Youth Law, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic and the Cooley law firm.
According to a statement by the children’s legal team, the government argues that it may put some children in detention if their parents or other potential guardians are deemed unfit, while at the same time denying them or their possible custodians a real chance to state their case for release.
“That’s particularly harmful to minors because there are specific processes that are intended to benefit minors who may have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both of their parents in their country of origin,” Brian López, a Sacramento immigration attorney, told KCRA.