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As ICE Continues to Violate Child Protection Laws, Young Mother Joins NIJC Class-Action Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A teen mother who fled to the United States from El Salvador with her toddler son and spent two weeks at an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children is joining a national class action lawsuit after being unlawfully transferred to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) adult jail when she turned 18. Her son remains at the children’s shelter.

In a lawsuit filed in the District Court of Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2018, the National Immigrant Justice Center and pro bono attorneys from  Kirkland & Ellis LLP are challenging ICE’s violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act which states that when unaccompanied immigrant children in ORR custody turn 18, instead of automatically transferring them to adult prisons, the government must consider alternatives such as placement with sponsors or supervised group homes. ICE has routinely and systemically failed to comply with the law—in this case, a young mother now is locked in a New Jersey jail, her child left behind and alone in ORR custody.

“It is heart-wrenching to see this family torn apart. Our client, a vulnerable teenager, is sitting in an immigration jail alone, separated from her 2-year-old son, and has no contact with him,” says Kate Melloy Goettel, senior litigation attorney at NIJC. “Separating a young mother from her child shows a complete failure on ICE’s part to follow the law and place 18-year-olds in the least restrictive setting. Their actions are illegal and cruel.”

“The facility where she is being held in ICE custody is an actual jail, where she is held in a locked room with a group of women noticeably older than she is,” says Anwen Hughes, a lawyer with the organization Human Rights First who is representing the young woman. “Social visits take place through a window and over a telephone, so that even if her child could be brought to see her, the experience would be traumatic both for her and for her toddler. In the universe of immigration detention it is hard to imagine a setting more restrictive than this.”