Challenge to ORR Child Detention Policy

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contacts:      Rebecca Wolozin, (571) 373-0518
                  Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, (434) 218-9376

FEDERAL COURT ALLOWS CHALLENGE TO GOVERNMENT POLICY USING DETAINED CHILDREN AS BAIT TO ARREST FAMILIES

ALEXANDRIA, VA (November 16, 2018) — Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied the U.S. government’s motion to dismiss Legal Aid Justice Center’s lawsuit on behalf of detained immigrant children and their families, striking a blow to a new immigration policy that has kept thousands of children unnecessarily detained for months. The Court’s decision is a victory for immigrant children and their families in Virginia and across the country. 

This case is particularly significant, not only in Virginia, but nationally. Over 13,000 children are held by Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the policies challenged in this suit, hundreds of whom are in Virginia. Because the policies are federal policies implemented across the country, the outcome of this case will have a nationwide impact. 

Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), together with the intellectual property law firm of Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein, and Fox, brought this first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit challenging the government’s recent policy of sharing sponsor information and information about sponsors’ household members with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That policy has resulted in ICE arrests of family and friends that came forward to bring their children home.

“The Trump administration has been carrying out a backdoor family separation agenda, keeping immigrant children apart from their families and using children as bait to break up the very families they have traveled so far and risked so much to join,” said Becky Wolozin, lead counsel and attorney with LAJC’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “This decision is a victory for immigrant children and families. The Court has said clearly that the government cannot run roughshod over the rights of these children and their loved ones.” 

The lawsuit stemmed from the experience of four children in ORR custody on Virginia who were held by the government for over five months while their relatives tried to bring them home. Three of the four children were finally reunified with their families – one just weeks before the Court’s order came down. The three children who have been reunified with their families have been dismissed from the case. One child remains in government custody, where he has been held apart from his adult sister for six months, after fleeing violence and neglect in his home country. 

“For years, ORR has neglected its obligations under the Administrative Procedure Act,” said Sterne Kessler Director Salvador Bezos, lead of the firm’s immigration-focused pro bono matters. “The Administrative Procedure Act provides essential protections against this kind of agency overreach. I am proud of my colleagues’ and LAJC’s efforts to force the government to meet its obligations to the children in its custody.”

“ORR is supposed to protect vulnerable immigrant children. Instead it is placing them in harm’s way under the guise of child welfare,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of LAJC’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “Their policy and its enforcement undermine successfully placing children with their families and the vast surveillance actions are destabilizing immigrant communities.” 

In the November 15th ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema firmly upheld children’s right to liberty and the right to family unity for immigrant families. Judge Brinkema found that the children and their sponsors provided sufficient reason to suggest that their constitutional rights were violated, and that the government violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it enacted its ICE sharing policy earlier this year.  The case will now move forward as LAJC works to certify the class and the parties work to complete discovery. 

Read the legal ruling here

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Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty. We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses.  More information is available at http://www.justice4all.org/current-initiatives/fighting-family-separation/