ImmDef v. DHS demands reinstatement of fair asylum process for children
LOS ANGELES, CA. – A cohort of immigrant rights organizations representing unaccompanied children through their counsel Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Justice Action Center, and pro bono partner Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, are asking a California Federal District Court to stop the U.S. government from deporting young children under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.
MPP forced over 60,000 asylum-seeking individuals, including young children, to wait indefinitely in life-threatening conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border. MPP’s horrific conditions destroyed families, rendering at least 700 children without family and thus “unaccompanied.” Despite the Biden administration’s suspension of new enrollments under MPP, the Department of Homeland Security continues to rely on MPP to threaten deportation of these children to countries where they fear harm and lack sufficient family ties. The motion filed today cites multiple instances of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s failure to adhere to Congressionally-mandated guarantees for a non-adversarial immigration process in its haste to remove as many children as possible.
Because of DHS’ actions, these children are being deprived of critical rights and protections that Congress guaranteed they would have through its Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Recognizing how vulnerable these children are to trafficking and violence if deported, Congress granted them special rights. However, according to plaintiff testimony, DHS seeks to prevent these children from accessing these special protections and is trampling on those rights by continuing to threaten to deport children under MPP.
In January 2021, these organizations sued DHS and other government agencies with the hope that the Biden administration would immediately resolve the predicament facing these unaccompanied children. Instead, the government has been dragging its feet to properly remedy the situation they inherited and have kept unaccompanied children under threat of deportation because they were once in MPP. And just yesterday, on May 13, the government made clear that it thinks it can deport these kids because they were once in MPP.
Under the preliminary injunction motion, multiple instances are cited, some as recent as April 2021, documenting the systemic denial of due process and asylum protection rights to unaccompanied children detained by Customs and Border Patrol. Today’s filing reveals that while the Biden administration has agreed that immigrant children must be given non-adversarial asylum interviews, the administration is refusing to guarantee that they will not deport these children before the process is complete.
The cohort of organizations has asked the Biden administration to agree to allow unaccompanied children to have a full, child-friendly immigration process, and to remove any threat of deportation during this process. This would put the administration back in line with the TVPRA.
“Children seeking safety deserve to be treated with dignity and in an age-appropriate manner, and Congress acknowledged that when it created the TVPRA,” said Jane Bentrott, attorney with Justice Action Center. “Instead, we find the Biden administration continuing aspects of the Trump administration’s shameful practice of detaining and deporting children without any regard to decency or the law. We filed this motion today because our clients cannot wait any longer.”
“The Biden administration has made family unity and care for one another centerpieces of his agenda, and yet they continue to deny immigrant children their basic right to fair treatment by the immigration system,” said Hannah Flamm with The Door. “This behavior is shameful and unnecessary. We are simply asking for the Biden administration to adhere to the law as it is written, and it is disappointing that we must resort to this legal action to achieve this outcome.”
Munmeeth Soni, Director of Litigation and Advocacy, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, said: “We hope the Biden administration hears us loud and clear: there is no excuse for failing to protect the rights of all children in the immigration system. Point blank: kids don’t belong in the deportation machine. The Biden administration promised the American people an end to inhumane immigration practices and it’s time to fulfill that promise for all unaccompanied children. We will not tolerate remedy without relief; stop deporting children who were orphaned because of our immigration policies.”
“We demand the Biden administration stand behind our nation’s obligation to the most vulnerable of asylum seekers: children who are alone in our country. These children are in need of protection and should be treated in a humane and dignified manner. Ending MPP is not enough. In this lawsuit, we demand that these children are given the protections Congress provided for in the TVPRA and that the Biden Administration stop the deplorable practices of the Trump Administration,” said Tami Goodlette Director of Litigation for RAICES.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of ImmDef, ABA ProBar, RAICES, and The Door, legal service providers who represent thousands of unaccompanied children in their immigration proceedings. Counsel in the case include Justice Action Center, ImmDef, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.
The Motion for Preliminary Injunction is available here: https://justiceactioncenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/ImmDef-v.-DHS-Memorandum-of-Points-and-Authorities-ISO-Mot-for-Preliminary-Injunction-1.pdf
Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) is a next-generation social justice law firm that defends our immigrant communities against injustices in the legal system. We envision a future where no immigrant will be forced to face immigration court alone. Our programs are a first step towards the long-term goal of providing universal representation to all immigrants facing deportation. ImmDef is now the largest non‐profit, pro bono provider of deportation defense in California with offices in Los Angeles, Adelanto, Riverside, Santa Ana, and San Diego.
Justice Action Center is a startup social justice organization that combines the power of storytelling with impact litigation to change the conversation about immigrants. We partner with immigrant communities and on-the-ground lawyers to bring transformative litigation that helps create a society where all of us are treated with dignity.
RAICES is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees. With legal services, social programs, bond assistance, and an advocacy team focused on changing the narrative around immigration in this country, RAICES is operating on the national frontlines of the fight for immigration rights.
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP (www.simpsonthacher.com) is one of the world’s leading international law firms. The Firm was established in 1884 and has more than 1,000 lawyers. Headquartered in New York with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, São Paulo, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., the Firm provides coordinated legal advice and transactional capability to clients around the globe.