AI Justice played a key role in a recent Federal Court decision against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) treatment of immigrant children. Last week, after two years of litigation and an 18-day trial, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled in favor of plaintiffs in Garcia-Ramirez v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, No. 18-00508, 2020 WL 3604041 (D.C. Cir. July 2, 2020) issued a 180-page decision.
The case was brought as a national class action on behalf of immigrant children throughout the U.S. who were in the custody of The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) because they arrived here as unaccompanied minors. The vast majority have families here that were able and willing to take them in while their cases were pending. The judge found that ICE was routinely going to the shelters on the children’s 18th birthdays, shackling them and then transferring them to adult detention facilities, in violation of federal law. ICE’s Miami Field Office was one of the largest offices where the judge found that ICE was “nearly automatically” detaining these 18 year-olds rather than releasing them to their families or group homes.
Lisa Lehner, Director of Litigation at AI Justice, began filing habeas petitions for these children in the spring of 2018 and began a campaign to seek the release of these youth through release requests to ICE and petitions to federal court as necessary. “This work served as a model for other organizations across the country and the trial team in Garcia-Ramirez relied on AI Justice’s experiences,” said Ms. Lehner. Ms. Lehner testified during the trial in December and the court’s 180-page opinion quoted her testimony in support of its ruling.
AI Justice sounded the alarm bell about the plight of these children. Between April 2018 and March 2020, 140 children who turned 18 in ORR custody were apprehended by ICE on their 18th birthdays; AI Justice obtained the release of 45 of them and in the vast majority of cases where AI Justice filed habeas petitions, the children in question were released within days.
Nelson Mullins Broad and Cassel worked on a number of these petitions on a pro bono basis and their assistance was crucial.