Garcia Ramirez et al. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement et al., is a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for transferring unaccompanied minors who reach their 18th birthdays to ICE adult detention facilities without considering less restrictive placements. In the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Kirkland & Ellis LLP and the National Immigrant Justice Center argue that the U.S. government routinely and systematically fails to adhere to the statutory provisions that require them to consider placement in “the least restrictive setting available,” and to provide meaningful alternatives to detention as required by amendments to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).
In April 2018, the district court granted a preliminary injunction and class certification to unaccompanied immigrant youth who were transferred to adult jails. A few months later, the court certified a class of 18-year-olds transferred to ICE detention on their 18th birthdays and denied the government’s motion to dismiss.
In October 2018, following the class certification order, ICE instituted a new process in which officers complete a check-box form for each 18-year-old and uploads it to an internal ICE database. Rather than solve the problem, ICE’s new form highlighted the arbitrary manner in which ICE decides whether to release 18-year-old age-outs to non-detention settings.
In April 2019, ICE moved to decertify the class on the basis that the check-box form showed its compliance with the TVPRA. Months later, the agency revealed that it failed to track approximately 1,500 age-outs from April 2016 to May 2019 — including more than 300 age-outs after instituting its new check-box form. On that basis, the court denied ICE’s motion to decertify.
Over the course of the litigation, NIJC and Kirkland & Ellis conducted extensive discovery, including taking and defending 31 depositions and obtaining nearly 130,000 documents from the government. Plaintiffs analyzed this extensive evidence to show that the most likely determining factor as to whether an 18-year-old will be detained or released is the field office making the decision. An econometrics expert conducted a regression analysis of this data and concluded that the field office has “stronger effect on the likelihood that an Age-Out is detained than any or all of the risk factors [which ICE uses to justify detention after a child turns 18].” Field offices in Miami, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and New York had statistically higher-than-average detention rates.
The case went to trial in December 2019 and lasted several weeks. In July 2020, the district court ruled that ICE's failure to consider less restrictive settings before transferring unaccompanied immigrant youth to ICE detention on their 18th birthdays violates U.S. immigration laws.
In September 2021, the court issued a permanent injunction in the case, which was amended in November 2021 to clarify the length of aspects of the permanent injunction. In its accompanying memorandum opinion, the court pointed to ICE’s “pervasive violations” of the TVPRA and explained that its decision to grant injunctive relief was in part based on ICE’s failure to comply with the statute constituting “a pattern of agency recalcitrance and resistance to the fulfillment of its legal duties.”
The five-year permanent injunction requires ICE to:
- Comply substantively with the TVPRA, which requires ICE to consider placing unaccompanied immigrant children in settings less restrictive than ICE detention
- Re-train its officers and revise its policies and handbook on how to make custody determinations when youth in ORR custody turn 18
- Document its custody decisions on an “Age-Out Review Worksheet”
- Provide Age-Out Review Worksheets and monthly reports to class counsel
Addendum to Final Order and Permanent Injunction (11/10/2021)
Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction (9/21/21)
Order Granting Preliminary Injunction (4/18/18)
Original Complaint (3/5/18)
In the Media
NIJC Press Releases:
Washington Post: ICE unlawfully jails unaccompanied migrant children once they turn 18, judge rules (7/2/20)
Law360: Factual Dispute Bars Feds From Trimming ICE Detention Suit (11/8/19)
Huffington Post: ICE Is Throwing A Record Number Of 18-Year-Olds Into Adult Detention On Their Birthdays (11/1/18)
The New York Times: Coming of Age in American Detention (9/22/18)
Vice News: ICE Is Sending Detained Kids to Adult Jails the Second They Turn 18 (8/27/18)
Slate: ICE’s Illegal Abuse of Teenagers Proves the Agency Is Beyond Reform (8/23/18)
The Miami New Times: ICE Handcuffs Immigrant Kids on Their 18th Birthdays, Drags Them to Jail (8/23/18)
Reveal News/PRI: ICE isn’t following its own handbook on how to deport kids (4/25/2018)
Colorlines: Immigrant Rights Group Sues ICE for Illegally Jailing 18-Year-Olds (3/6/18)