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Immigration Law

New Lawsuit Seeks Due Process for Detained Kids

NYCL, June 29, 2018 - "Today, five immigrant children in federal custody filed a complaint in federal court challenging the government’s cruel policies and practices that unlawfully prolong their detention and delay their reunification with their families. In violation of the Flores Settlement Agreement, which established a policy favoring the release of minors and requires the least restrictive environment for children in federal custody, the government is cruelly inflicting trauma on children by subjecting them to jail-like conditions for prolonged periods, drugging them with powerful psychotropic medication without oversight or consent, and arbitrarily denying them release to family members.

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.

The complaint charges the government with inappropriately detaining children in unnecessarily restrictive detention centers without fair process, unlawfully medicating children without parental or other appropriate authorization, and failing to promptly release children to family members in the United States.  It also alleges that the government is violating the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by obstructing detained children from accessing lawyers and failing to provide due process.  In particular, the complaint alleges:

  • The government regularly confines juveniles in unnecessarily restrictive detention centers on unsubstantiated allegations they are dangerous or constitute a flight risk, without affording them a meaningful or timely opportunity to be heard regarding the reasons for subjecting them to secure or medium-secure confinement.
  • The government regularly prolongs children’s detention on the ground that their parents or other available custodians are allegedly unfit, yet denies children and their proposed sponsors a meaningful or timely opportunity to be heard on the matter.
  • The government regularly places minors in detention facilities where they are administered powerful psychotropic medications for weeks, months, or years, without procedural safeguards and without providing notice to or obtaining the consent of their parents, even when those parents are present in the United States and readily available to grant or withhold consent.
  • The government blocks lawyers from representing detained children with respect to placement, administration of psychotropic medications, or release to available family members, even though Congress has allocated funds specifically to provide lawyers to represent children who are or have been in federal custody, including for issues related to release and least-restrictive placement.

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 children named in the lawsuit have been in federal custody for up to a year and a half, been administered psychotropic medications without consent, and been denied release to family members for manufactured reasons or without any reason provided at all, and with no opportunity to even review, much less appeal, the government’s decisions.  Full details of their situations and the trauma they are experiencing as a result are set forth in the full complaint, here [hyperlink].

“The children in immigration detention centers appreciate the international outcry of support, and today use their own voice to demand their freedom. Invoking constitutional protections, today they fight for the foundational principles of our democracy—liberty and justice for all,” said Holly S. Cooper, Co-Director of the University of California Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic.

“For the past two decades since the Flores agreement, and throughout three presidential administrations, there has been broad consensus that these children do not belong in detention because the government is ill-equipped to parent them and because detention inflicts irreparable trauma on innocent kids,” said Carlos Holguin, CHRCL’s General Counsel.  “The experiences of these children in custody show the wisdom of this stance.  This lawsuit asks the court to affirm the constitutional rights of these children at a time when the government is deliberately acting against their best interests.”

“The government’s tactics inflict trauma on the very children they are supposed to be protecting. Flying dazed, shackled children across the country in the middle of the night, jailing them like criminals, drugging them without parental or judicial authorization, and needlessly keeping them from family members who are able and willing to care for them is resulting in extreme deterioration of their mental health and causing lasting emotional harm,” said NCYL Senior Attorney Leecia Welch.  “We are asking the court to demand that the government provide these children with the due process they are entitled to under the law and to provide compassionate, rather than trauma-inducing, care.”

In response to the allegations in this lawsuit, the Nobel-Prize winning organization Physicians for Human Rights announced it will open an independent investigation into the treatment of these children.  “Physicians for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the allegations of abuse and unethical treatment of minors detailed in this lawsuit,” said Homer Venters, MD, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights. “As we have done in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Myanmar, and elsewhere, PHR will now bring its medical and scientific resources to bear and initiate an independent investigation of the care received by these vulnerable minors.”


 The Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law is a non-profit, public interest legal foundation dedicated to furthering and protecting the civil, constitutional, and human rights of immigrants, refugees, children, prisoners, and the poor.

NCYL logoThe National Center for Youth Law is a non-profit law firm that helps marginalized children achieve their potential by transforming the public agencies that serve them. For more information, please visit

 The Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California Davis is one of the few clinics in the nation devoted to representing detained immigrants before the immigration court — challenging conditions of confinement and contesting their confinement in federal court.

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