The Trump administration used detained immigrant children as bait to arrest immigrants who came forward to sponsor them for release – a scheme that has left thousands of children detained in detention facilities across the country. The SPLC, the Legal Aid Justice Center, and the law firm of Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox sued the administration to end the practice.
The lawsuit describes how the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is charged with caring for unaccompanied refugee minors who seek safe haven in the United States, delayed the release of children to family members by requiring potential sponsors and their household members to submit biographical and biometric information as a pre-condition of a child’s release. The ORR then shared that information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The policy led to children remaining in government custody for much longer periods of time.
The lawsuit, which the SPLC joined when an amended complaint was filed in January 2019, seeks the release of children who have sponsors available to take them into their homes. It also seeks to reform this system that has resulted in prolonged detention for thousands of children.
The lawsuit charges that this situation is primarily the result of the ongoing cooperation between ORR and ICE – a deliberate strategy to assist ICE’s removal of undocumented immigrants from the United States and to deter future vulnerable migrants from traveling to the United States.
The lawsuit was certified as a class action in April 2019 on behalf of minors held in ORR custody in Virginia for 60 days or more, and close relative sponsors of those children who seek to sponsor them for release from ORR custody but to whom the children have yet to be released.
The lawsuit, previously known as JECM, et al. v. Jonathan Hayes, et al., also outlines the significant problems with the sponsorship process, which has created an impenetrable maze for potential sponsors in violation of the due process rights of children and their caregivers.
Since the filing of the complaint, ORR has revised its processes and has ceased to collaborate or coordinate with ICE during the reunification process. Plaintiffs have requested changes to the ORR handbook which further streamline the reunification process by requiring transparency in decision-making and facilitate appeals. The parties have filed motions for summary decision and are awaiting the court’s decision.