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A federal court approved a settlement agreement on September 7 in a lawsuit challenging the unlawful detention of unaccompanied children who turn 18 in U.S. government custody and are transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities. In an agreement approved by the district court, ICE gave up their appeal fight.

The settlement follows more than four years of litigation in which U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras found ICE flagrantly violated immigration laws, requiring ICE to change its policies and practices to avoid further unlawful detention of 18-year-olds. The nationwide class-action lawsuit, Garcia Ramirez  v. ICE, was litigated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Kirkland and & Ellis was lead counsel on the case with co-counsel from the National Immigrant Justice Center and the American Immigration Council.

In a 2020 ruling following a four-week bench trial, the district court found that the U.S. government routinely and systematically failed to adhere to a statute that requires them to consider placement in “the least restrictive setting available,” and to provide alternatives to detention as required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. A year later, the district court issued a permanent injunction to remedy ICE’s systemic violations of the law. "An agency that had shown a responsiveness to prior decisions more proactively and not attempted to shirk its legal obligations could perhaps be counted on to effectively implement remedial measures and police itself without the specter of a formal injunction," Judge Contreras wrote in a September 2021 memorandum. "But …the court continues to harbor doubts about ICE's ability to do so here."

The U.S. government appealed those orders, and that appeal will be dismissed as a part of the parties’ settlement agreement.

“We are very happy to see this years-long litigation come to a conclusion in such a way where its impact already is evident across the system we set out to change,” said Mark Fleming, associate director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center. "This settlement secures valuable protections for unaccompanied immigrant youth, who should not have to worry about being sent to an immigration jail on their 18th birthdays. It also provides for critical monitoring and accountability over ICE, an agency that too often has been allowed to operate with impunity as it violates U.S. laws and basic human rights. We’ll continue to work with our partners to ensure that ICE abides by the court’s order.”

“This settlement agreement secures and finalizes our previous victories for unaccompanied youth, which required ICE to address its systemic violations of our laws governing the detention of migrant teens, including overhauling its training and procedures and providing monthly reports to class counsel on their compliance with the injunction,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, director of litigation for the American Immigration Council. “We are thrilled that this lawsuit has already helped so many young people avoid detention, and yesterday’s settlement assures that the lawsuit will continue to help future unaccompanied teens.”

 

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For more information, contact:  

Brianna Dimas at the American Immigration Council via email or at 202-507-7557.  

Tara Tidwell-Cullen at the National Immigrant Justice Center via email or at 312-833-2967.

 

The American Immigration Council works to strengthen America by shaping how America thinks about and acts towards immigrants and immigration and by working toward a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection and unleashes the energy and skills that immigrants bring. The Council brings together problem solvers and employs four coordinated approaches to advance change—litigation, research, legislative and administrative advocacy, and communications. In January 2022, the Council and New American Economy merged to combine a broad suite of advocacy tools to better expand and protect the rights of immigrants, more fully ensure immigrants’ ability to succeed economically, and help make the communities they settle in more welcoming. Follow the latest Council news and information on ImmigrationImpact.com and Twitter @immcouncil.  

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit immigrantjustice.org and follow @NIJC on Twitter.