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Case Summary

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. A hearing to discuss remedies was subsequently held and a final ruling from the court instructing ICE on remedies remains forthcoming.

 

The Lead Plaintiff

Wilmer Garcia Ramirez, the lead plaintiff in the case, fled to the United States alone in 2017 when he was 17 years old to escape forced labor. In the United States he was placed into ORR custody, where he applied for a special visa which is granted to immigrant children who demonstrate that it is not in their best interests to return to their home country and parents because of abuse, abandonment or neglect. Later that year, when Wilmer turned 18, ICE took him into custody and sent him to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona for eight months, even though a family friend was willing to sponsor him if he were released. His visa application is still pending.

 

Timeline

March 5, 2018
NIJC and Kirkland & Ellis LLP file suit in the D.C. District Court

March 5, 2018
NIJC and Kirkland & Ellis LLP file motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction on behalf of Plaintiffs and a class of similarly situated immigrant teenagers

April 18, 2018
Court grants a preliminary injunction requiring ICE to reassess its custody of the two original lead plaintiffs and place them in the “least restrictive setting” possible, as required under U.S. law

August 30, 2018
Court grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Class Certification and Denies Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

April 1, 2019
Defendants move to decertify the class

May 15, 2019
Plaintiffs file opposition to motion to decertify

July 9, 2019
Court denies motion to decertify on the basis that ICE failed to account for hundreds of age-outs

September 13, 2019
Defendants file partial motion for summary judgment

October 7, 2019
Plaintiffs file opposition to motion for summary judgment

November 7, 2019
Court denies Defendants’ partial motion for summary judgment

December 2, 2019
Trial begins

July 2, 2020
Federal court issues findings of fact ruling that ICE's practice of detaining 18-year-olds violates U.S. law

 

Relevant Documents

Federal District Court's Findings of Fact (7/2/20)

Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Government’s Motion for Summary Judgment (10/7/19)

Order Granting Plaintiffs Class Certification & Denying Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (8/30/18)

Order Granting Preliminary Injunction (4/18/18)

Original Complaint (3/5/18)

 

In the Media

NIJC Press Releases:

ICE Unlawfully Detains Immigrant Youth: Federal Court Ruling (7/2/20)

NIJC Sues ICE for Unlawfully Jailing Young Immigrants (3/5/18)

Federal Court Says ICE Must Stop Jailing Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth without First Considering Alternatives to Detention (4/19/18)

Federal Court Certifies Nationwide Class to Protect Unaccompanied Youth Jailed by ICE (8/31/18)

News Coverage:

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)

Common Dreams: 'Happy Birthday, We're Sending You to Prison': Record Number of Young Immigrants Transferred to Adult Detention Upon Turning 18 (11/1/18)

The New York Times: Coming of Age in American Detention (9/22/18)

Vox: Immigrant children can be detained, prosecuted, and deported once they turn 18 (6/21/18)

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)

CNN: For unaccompanied minors, countdown to 18th birthday is filled with fear and dread (3/28/18)

Colorlines: Immigrant Rights Group Sues ICE for Illegally Jailing 18-Year-Olds (3/6/18)