Press Release

Cooley + Coalition Secure Strengthened Protections for Children in Immigration Custody

March 21, 2022

San Diego – March 21, 2022 – Cooley, alongside the National Center for Youth Law, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic, achieved a landmark ruling in which a federal judge held that unaccompanied children in federal immigration custody are entitled to greater constitutional protections than they are currently afforded when they are detained in restrictive placements or denied release to family members. Lawyers Summer Wynn, Michael McMahon, Alix Mayhugh and Jamie Robertson led the Cooley effort.

The order arises out of class-action suit Lucas R. v. Azar, which alleges that the US Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) employs policies that violate the constitutional rights of the children in its custody. Citing the harm that detention causes children, the judge ordered ORR to set and abide by clear standards when determining whether to “step up” (i.e., transfer) a child to restrictive, jail-like facilities, and ordered that it make other reforms aimed at providing children and their families appropriate avenues for due process, access to legal representation and the ability to appeal ORR’s decisions to refuse to release children to their families.

“The order will provide critical due process protections for children who often arrive in the United States alone and afraid and then have to endure lengthy detentions although they have a family member able to care for them,” said Wynn. “Cooley is deeply committed to advancing immigrant rights and is proud of this hard-fought victory, which comes after years of litigation.”

Cooley championed the effort in particular to challenge ORR’s family reunification efforts. The order extends the right to appeal the denial of a sponsorship application beyond just parents of a child in custody to their siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other immediate relatives. The court ordered the government to ensure written notice to certain denied sponsors to inform them of their right to appeal and be represented by counsel. The court also ordered the government to require broader access to counsel for detained children, including notice to counsel of placement in restrictive facilities, access to counsel to appeal “step-up” decisions and sponsor denials, and access to class members’ case files upon request.

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