immigrant children

A Milestone in Child Immigrant Rights: The New York Federal Judge's Decision

In a landmark decision that resonates deeply within the immigration law community, a New York federal judge has recently approved a settlement that promises a significant shift in the treatment of detained immigrant children. This ruling brings a yearslong class action lawsuit to a close, challenging a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement policy. As an experienced immigration attorney and former immigration officer, I understand the profound implications of this case for immigrant children and their families.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty’s decision impacts a class of children who are or will be in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in New York, especially those housed in staff-secure or secure facilities. This settlement class certification and the dismissal of the case with prejudice marks a pivotal moment in immigration law, particularly concerning policies on the detention of minors.

At the heart of this case was a former policy that necessitated the head of an immigration agency to personally review and approve the release of detained minors from restrictive settings. This policy had been a significant hurdle, causing prolonged detention of immigrant children. The lawsuit, filed in 2018, targeted this policy under the Trump administration, arguing that it led to extended detention periods and obstructed family reunification efforts.

The policy in question required former ORR Director Scott Lloyd to approve the release of children who had been under heightened supervision in custody. The children affected by this policy contended that the government had not provided a reasoned explanation for this change, thereby violating federal law that mandates timely release from detention.

Statistics from the lawsuit reveal a drastic change due to this policy: prior to its implementation, over 90% of children in ORR custody were released within 35 to 45 days. However, after the policy's enactment, only 12% of the 700 affected children had been released to adult guardians. This stark contrast highlights the policy's significant impact on detained immigrant children.

Judge Crotty’s 2018 order to pause the policy was a critical step, acknowledging the suffering and potential irreparable injury to the plaintiffs. His decision also considered the possibility that the policy might violate the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), as it was implemented hastily without detailed review. The stay of the case in the same year, followed by the resumption of discovery in 2019 and the subsequent settlement talks, underscored the complexity and importance of this legal battle.

The September preliminary approval of the settlement and the judge's recent final approval signify a major advancement in the protection of immigrant children's rights. The judge's acknowledgment that the notification plan for potential class members was adequate further demonstrates the careful consideration given to ensuring that affected individuals are informed and represented.

This case is a reminder of the vital role immigration attorneys play in advocating for vulnerable populations, particularly children. It highlights the necessity for legal experts who can navigate the intricacies of immigration law and champion the rights of those often unable to advocate for themselves.

The legal representation of the detained minors by the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation and Make the Road New York, as well as the government's representation by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, underlines the importance of skilled legal counsel in such complex and impactful cases.

In conclusion, this settlement is a beacon of hope for immigrant children and their families. It reinforces the importance of legal advocacy in the field of immigration law and the ongoing need to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable. As immigration professionals, we must continue to monitor developments in this area and provide compassionate, knowledgeable legal support to those navigating the challenging landscape of immigration law.


This blog is based on the article "NY Judge OKs Path To Settle Detained Immigrant Kids Policy" by Hailey Konnath, published on Law360 on December 12, 2023.

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