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Orders Government to Assess Placement in Least Restrictive Setting and Alternative Forms of Custody

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia has ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to reassess its custody decisions for two unaccompanied immigrant youth whom it moved from federal children’s shelters into adult jails when they turned 18. The court’s preliminary injunction requires ICE to reassess these two young immigrants for placement in the “least restrictive setting” and alternative forms of custody, as required under U.S. law.

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), along with its pro bono partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, filed a class action lawsuit in March on behalf of immigrant teenagers who came to the United States alone and later were transferred from government shelters to ICE detention centers when they turned 18. Many, including the lead plaintiffs, came to the U.S. seeking safety from dangerous situations at home and were awaiting reunification with family or sponsors.

“This ruling shows a deep concern that ICE is summarily locking up teens in adult jails rather than finding suitable non-detention placements,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, NIJC Senior Litigation Attorney. “We hope this ruling will compel ICE to carry out its statutory duty to consider alternatives to detention for all unaccompanied youth transferred to ICE detention.”  

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.

The court found that the evidence showed 18-year-old plaintiffs Wilmer Garcia Ramirez and Sulma Hernandez Alfaro were likely to prevail on their claim that ICE failed to consider the least restrictive setting for them and failed to properly assess whether they could be placed in non-detention settings. The court ordered ICE to comply with the statute as to plaintiffs Garcia and Hernandez by May 2nd.

The plaintiffs anticipate that the court will certify a nationwide class to protect unaccompanied youth transferred to ICE custody.