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Washington, D.C. – The U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia granted class certification to unaccompanied immigrant youth whom U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transferred from federal children’s shelters into adult jails when they turned 18 without considering alternatives to detention as mandated by law. In its opinion, the court also denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

“The court’s decision recognizes that there are real, tangible, systemic problems with how ICE detains 18-year-olds transferred from federal children’s shelters,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, senior litigation attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). “Teens who flee their home countries alone to seek safety here need our protection and support, but instead the U.S. government locks them up on their 18th birthdays.”

NIJC along with its pro bono partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of these immigrant teens in March. In April, the court granted 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. Shortly after, ICE released the third plaintiff, an 18-year-old mother separated from her two-year-old son for more than three months.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013 (TVPRA) states that when unaccompanied immigrant children in Office of Refugee Resettlement custody turn 18, ICE “shall consider placement in the least restrictive setting available after taking into account the [individual’s] danger to self, danger to the community, and risk of flight” and shall consider alternatives such as placement with sponsors or supervised group homes. According to the opinion, the TVPRA reflects Congress’s judgment that “kneejerk placement of former unaccompanied minors into adult detention facilities is inappropriate and injurious to those young adults.”

Yesterday’s decision allows the case to proceed. As a certified class action, this case now covers all 18-year-olds transferred from children’s shelters to ICE without consideration of least restrictive settings or alternatives to detention. The case will now proceed to discovery.