On July 2, 2020, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found that Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) violated the law by routinely locking up unaccompanied children on their 18th birthdays, in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”), which requires that when ICE receives custody of an age-out it must “consider placement in the least restrictive setting available after taking into account the alien’s danger to self, danger to the community, and risk of flight.” Under the Trump administration, ICE increasingly transferred unaccompanied immigrant children turning 18 from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters to adult detention centers and prisons. As a result of this decision, the practice will now have to come to an end.
The ruling in Garcia Ramirez et al. v. ICE was the result of more than two years of litigation by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and relied heavily on the expert testimony of our firm’s own attorney Hon. Robert Vinikoor (Ret.), who served as an immigration judge for over 30 years before joining our firm. The lawsuit challenged ICE’s practice of transferring unaccompanied minors who turn 18 years old to adult custody in the agency’s contracted jails and prisons, without considering less-restrictive placements, like releasing them to family members or youth shelters. In many cases, youth were sent to ICE detention even if they had sponsors waiting to take them in.
In his expert testimony, attorney Vinikoor testified that individuals in immigration detention have a right to have their bond determined or redetermined by an immigration judge considering “almost identical factors” to those considered by ICE in making an age-out custody determination. He further testified that because the factors are so similar, “[t]he release of an age-out by an immigration judge on bond is compelling evidence that the age-out was not a danger to the community or significant flight risk at the time ICE placed the individual in custody.” The court determined that ICE violated its obligation under the TVPRA because most of these individuals were ultimately released on bond after a bond hearing by an immigration judge who considered nearly identical factors and concluded that they posed no threat to safety.
MMH congratulates all the attorneys and agencies involved in this litigation and is proud of attorney Vinikoor’s contributions!