The ACLU is suing the Trump administration on behalf of immigrant teens

Donald Trump campaigned on being “tough on immigration,” so it was no surprise when Immigration and Customs Enforcement began doing more raids on communities with high populations of undocumented immigrants. But government agencies might be crossing the line, according to the ACLU, which is suing the Trump administration on behalf of immigrant teens.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, with law firm Cooley LLP, has filed a class action lawsuit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ICE, and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for detaining and threatening to deport three teenagers on the basis of what the organization alleges are totally unfounded gang affiliation charges.

Really, to get an idea of how confusing and scary the entire deportation process is, the three plaintiffs (who are hoping to represent a larger class of people that have been detained or deported this year) are all New York-based teenagers, but are currently being held in detention facilities all the way across the country, in California, without any notice to their friends, families, or guardians. In addition to that, they have been denied access to attorneys and been given many reasons for their arrests, one if which is gang affiliation.

One of the teens being held is in the process of getting a Special Immigrant Juveniles status, which is created for “foreign children in the United States who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected,” and earns them a green card. This kid was arrested for “suspected gang activity,” denied access to a lawyer, interrogated and then transported to a California detention center.

Another teen was picked up for “disorderly conduct” while walking home, and was subsequently shackled to a wall, and then given numerous reasons for his arrest, including gang affiliation, even though he has a pending SIJ status from February 2017. Another teen was arrested, accused of being in a gang, and was told he would be deported — which law enforcement allegedly teased him about — even though he is in the country under a sponsor agreement. (That’s when the ORR releases a child to a qualified guardian.)

Stephen Kang, attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement:

"We’re talking about teens who were picked up for play-fighting with a friend, or for showing pride in their home country of El Salvador. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is accepting wholesale that young immigrants should be kept behind bars because of what they look like or where they come from.

This is all being done, alleges the ACLU, under the guise of some international crackdown on gang violence and “bad hombres” — both of which Trump alleges are the scourge of the country. Although experts disagree whether teen gangs are the worst of America’s problems, especially since many unaccompanied minors in the U.S. are escaping gang violence in their home countries.

Either way, this whole rounding up immigrant teens and holding them in detention centers meant for adults isn’t a new problem under Trump.

During the Obama administration, the government required that juveniles be placed in the most lenient and non-restrictive facilities. But in 2014, that all changed when the Department of Homeland Security started to think of using detention facilities to deter immigration. Jeh Johnson, then secretary of DHS told The New York Times in 2014, “Frankly, we want to send a message that our border is not open to illegal migration, and if you come here, you should not expect to simply be released.” Right now, families can be held for as long as two months.

But the way these three teens were picked up, charged, and are now being held is extreme. Martin Schenker, a partner at Cooley LLP, said in a statement:

"This case centers on the denial of fundamental protections that are at the core of our legal system, and that apply to everyone, regardless of immigration status. Children are being denied access to their family and legal counsel and incarcerated in remote locations based on unreliable and unsubstantiated allegations, which amounts to a wholly unacceptable breach of their statutory and constitutional rights.

In addition to that, being held in jail can have serious psychological consequences for a teenager, which is why America’s legal system treats adults and children differently. 

Nonetheless, when anyone is arrested in America, they should be allowed a lawyer, told why they’re being held, and allowed to contact their family — especially minors. And especially minors who were going through the processes of getting legal status to stay in the country. Whether the courts see it that way remains to be seen. If you’re worried about this problem escalating, you can donate to the ACLU to help out.

Filed Under