ZZZ Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law



Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those  

            who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."       
- Franklin D. Roosevelt                          

   photo    photo


Welcome to the young_girlCenter for Human Rights & Constitutional Law. The Center is a non-profit, public interest legal foundation dedicated to furthering and protecting the civil, constitutional, and human rights of immigrants, refugees, children, prisoners, and the poor.

Since its incorporation in 1980, under the leadership of a board of directors comprising civil rights attorneys, community advocates and religious leaders, the Center has provided a wide range of legal services to vulnerable low-income victims of human and civil rights violations and technical support and training to hundreds of legal aid attorneys and paralegals in the areas of immigration law, constitutional law, and complex and class action litigation.

The Center has achieved major victories in numerous major cases in the courts of the United States and before international bodies that have directly benefited hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged persons.



    • Legal aid groups sue Office of Refugee Resettlement over opaque and peremptory detention of unaccompanied immigrant and refugee minors - August 12, 2016

The Center for Human Rights, U.C. Davis Law School Legal Clinic, and the Youth Law Center today filed a motion for class-wide enforcement of the settlement in Flores v. Lynch to compel the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (ORR) to allow children whom it refuses to release bond redetermination hearings before the Executive Office of Immigration Review. The Flores settlement provides that juveniles denied release must be afforded bond hearings unless the affirmatively decline one. ORR contends that the the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, 110 Pub. L. 457, 122 Stat. 5044, codified in pertinent part at 8 U.S.C. § 1232 (“TVPRA”) voids the bond hearing requirement. Plaintiffs argue that the TVPRA's  raison d'être is to confer greater protection on unaccompanied children, not expose them to peremptory detention. Plaintiffs also present evidence that ORR's Kafkaesque detention decisions are causing traumatized youth irreparable harm, including, for example, by leading them to believe they will soon be release to parents or other qualified custodians, only to keep them detained for months or years without affording an opportunity to see or rebut any evidence ORR believes justifies their continued detention. Some youth have languished as long as two years in juvenile halls on the untested ground that they are flight-risks or dangerous, only to be release within days after turning 18, being transferred to adult detention facilities, and finally be afforded bond redeterminations.

Click here to see plaintiffs' brief.
    • Ninth Circuit Rules in Favor of Children Detained by DHS - July 7, 2016

    Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Flores v. Lynch, a class action case in which a nationwide settlement was reached in 1997, which set national guidelines for the conditions in which immigrant children can be detained in the United States. The Settlement also set standards and conditions of release for these children, including how they will be promptly reunified with family members, friends, or even group homes licensed for the care of children in the event that the former are not available. Yesterday, July 6, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals issued a ruling requiring that US immigration officials must take immediate and ongoing steps to release detained minors “as expeditiously as possible,” including all children whether accompanied or unaccompanied, to available family members, other responsible adults or licensed group homes. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which serves as class counsel for all immigrant children in Government detention, is urging the Obama Administration to reassess its inhumane and extortionate practices. In responding to the Court's ruling CHRCL Executive Director, Peter Schey said, "We hope this decision by the Federal Court of Appeals convinces the Obama Administration that its policy of detaining immigrant mothers and children is inhumane and illegal and must come to an end. During the past two years this Administration has wasted over one hundred million dollars unnecessarily detaining thousands of refugee children commingled with unrelated adults in unlicensed secure facilities in violation of well-established child detention standards. This disgraceful policy should now be brought to an end by President Obama."

    You can read the Ninth Circuit's full Opinion here.

    • U.S. must release child migrants held in family detention, Court says - July 6, 2016

      President Obama’s immigration policy was dealt another blow Wednesday when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s opinion that child migrants who are accompanied by a parent and currently in family detention should be quickly released.

      It left the fate of the parents up in the air, however.

      The case centers on a 1997 legal settlement — known as the Flores agreement — that set legal requirements for the housing of children seeking asylum or in the country illegally. In July 2015, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles found the government had violated key provisions of the court settlement that put restrictions on the detention of migrant children.

    Read the full LA Times article here.


    Los Angeles (May 19, 2016) - Claiming that the conditions of their detention are "deplorable" and "inhumane," and that they are being illegally held in remote detention centers commingled with hundreds of unrelated adults, children seeking asylum in the United States today asked a federal court in Los Angeles to order their prompt release and the release of their detained mothers. 
    The request was presented to federal district court Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles. Judge Gee is presiding over a class action case dealing with the conditions of detention of immigrant children and the process for releasing them. In a nationwide settlement reached in 1997, the government agreed that children taken in to custody would immediately be held in humane conditions and “without unnecessary delay” would be released in order of first preference to a parent – even if the parent was apprehended with the child. The settlement also requires that if a parent or other relatives or suitable custodians are unavailable, children must be promptly placed in non-secure facilities licensed for the care of dependent children. Lawyers for the children claim that in response to a temporary surge in apprehensions of children along the US-Mexico border in the spring of 2014, the Obama administration stopped complying with the 1997 settlement and started holding children for weeks or months in sometimes dangerous and unhealthy secure detention facilities comingled with hundreds of unrelated adults.    

    You can view the full press release by the Center for Human rights and Constitutional Law here.

    To access the filed court documents in Flores v. Lynch please use the following links:

    Motion to Enforce Settlement and for Appointment of Special Master


    Proposed Order Appointing Special Master


    Proposed Order Enforcing Settlement 

    Exhibits in Support of Motion to Enforce

    Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 

    Bill Clinton dealt a major setback to rational immigration policy in 1996 when he signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act for the first time in history adopting "bars" that would block millions of immigrants from legalizing their status even though they qualified for immigrant visas through their U.S. citizen or lawful resident spouses, parents or children.

    This law now accounts for about two million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. with Government-issued "approved" visa petitions, but unable to legalize their status. Hillary Clinton could endorse an easy solution to legalize these immigrants with no change in existing law.

    Read the full analysis by the Center’s Executive Director, Peter Schey, here.

    Before walking out of jail a free man in February, Albert Woodfox spent 43 years almost without pause in an isolation cell, becoming the longest standing solitary confinement prisoner in America. He had no view of the sky from inside his 6ft by 9ft concrete box, no human contact, and taking a walk meant pacing from one end of the cell to the other and back again.

    As a member of the “Angola Three” – former Black Panther activists who were all subject to decades of solitary confinement in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison – Woodfox was put into CCR ostensibly for the murder of a prison guard, for which he has always insisted he was framed. His conviction was twice overturned by a federal court on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, and he walked out of custody an innocent man.

    Read the full story here.

    • Haitians In The Dominican Republic Are Facing A Human Rights Catastrophe. No One Is Paying Attention -April 28, 2016

      On the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, there is an ongoing and overlooked human rights and humanitarian catastrophe. In recent years, the government of the Dominican Republic has taken measures to essentially strip ethnic Haitians of Dominican citizenship. New legal statutes have the potential to render about 500,000 people stateless.

      Read more here.

    Human Rights Groups Denounce U.S.-Mexico Campaign to Interdict and Summarily Deport Central American Refugees
    — April 14, 2016.

Over 35 faith-based groups and human rights organizations filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States denouncing the joint campaign of the United States and Mexico--the infamous Plan Frontera Sur--to interdict and summarily deport persons--including thousands of children and families--fleeing rampant violence in Central America's "northern triangle": Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The petition, Adolescentes en el Camino, et al. (United States and Mexico), Case P-652-16, marshals extensive evidence that the two governments are deporting tens of thousands of men, women and children to jurisdictions in which they run a clear risk of persecution and death, in violation of the long-standing international prohibition against refoulement of refugees. Petitioners ask the Commission to rule, inter alia, that interdicted refugees are entitled to a full and fair process by which their eligibility for international protection in Mexico may be determined

The petition also contends that the two governments unlawfully detain Central America asylum-seekers en masse and subject them to conditions of hyper-violence and impunity in Mexico in an unconscionable and illegal effort to deter them from seeking international protection.

For more information regarding the Center's advocacy on behalf of Central American migrants and refugees, including a compilation of studies and reports, please see http://www.centerforhumanrights.org/Border_Externalization.html.

  • DAPA/Expanded DACA Programs Blocked: A New Strategy for President Obama and immigrant communities - November 11, 2015 

There are several critically important steps President Obama could take to better protect immigrants and at the same time address head-on the federal court's blocking of his efforts at immigration reform.

The U.S. District Court and now by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. While the White House has vowed to appeal further to the U.S. Supreme Court, as explained below, the appeal will have little chance of success. Simply put, the Supreme Court is likely to agree that the DAPA/ Expanded DACA program should have been issued as formal regulations, not just as a "policy" of the Department of Homeland Security. President Obama should promptly issue a policy or adopt regulations allowing all immigrants eligible for family or employment-based visas under existing law to apply for and be granted "advance parole" (permission to travel abroad and return to the U.S. through a port of entry) for personal or business purposes.

This is a sensible “border enforcement” proposal. It is well known that undocumented immigrants, including immigrants with pending or approved visa applications, who are playing by the rules and are “in the system,” travel abroad to see family and for other personal reasons. When they return to their residences in the U.S., they do so without inspection, crossing mountains and deserts with the help of human smugglers. The journey is dangerous and diverts the limited resources of the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP). Allowing these immigrants to return through normal ports of entry can be accomplished with “advance parole.” This would remove the dangers of returning illegally and preserve CBP’s limited enforcement resources. Simply put, these immigrants would return through a normal inspection process rather than traveling across the Southern border entering with the help of human traffickers.

After returning to the U.S. with regular border inspections, thousands of immigrants with already approved visa petitions would immediately become eligible to apply for lawful permanent status. These immigrants cannot adjust their status now solely because of their unlawful initial entries many years ago. We urge advocates to begin providing assistance to visa applicants and those with approved visas to apply for "advance parole." The Center is available to assist and guide advocates. We also urge advocacy groups to call on President Obama to authorize DHS to grant advance parole so these immigrants can visit their families, return to the U.S. with inspection, and then apply for lawful permanent resident status.

Read the full analysis by Peter Schey, Director, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
Email advanceparole@centerforhumanrights.org for technical support.

Read the 5th Circuit's decision in Texas v. United States here

"Comprehensive White House Immigration Reform: President Obama is Missing the Boat and Leaving Millions of Immigrants Stranded" available to download here.
  • Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law launches “Advance Parole” effort to legalize 1.5 million immigrants. - November 1, 2015

The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law is initiating discussions, trainings and advocacy aimed at securing “advance parole” for immigrants “in the system” who have pending or approved visa petitions. An analysis of the benefits of such a program and its benefits may be read/downloaded at this link. In a nutshell, the Congress and Administration have obviously failed to come close to passing comprehensive immigration reform and it is highly unlikely to do so soon. The consensus for rational reform measures is not present, and, in any event, neither the Congress nor the Administration have even studied the migration issue in any comprehensive way as was done in 1985-86 to lay the foundation for smart immigration reform. In fact, the only real players right now in the immigration “reform” debate are major corporations wheeling and dealing to rake in profits in various enforcement capacities. President Obama, in a last ditch effort to achieve something significant, finally issued the DAPA program promising over a million undocumented immigrants temporary work permits. The DAPA program was quickly blocked by the federal courts because it does not appear to leave sufficient discretion in the hands of officers to grant or deny applications and it was not issued as a formal regulation to protect immigrants but merely as a “policy” subject to change at any time by any Administration. It was clear from the beginning that these flaws in the program could result in the courts blocking the program, the Administration has refused to modify the program, and its therefore now blocked by the court of appeals and its future very uncertain. However, there is one major action the immigrants, their advocates and the White House and DHS could now take to benefit one to two million immigrants while engaging in smart border enforcement.


Read more about “Advance Parole” here

  • Congressman: ‘No Way’ Comprehensive Immigration Reform Will Happen, Even After Obama - October 30, 2015

It’s been widely reported that newly-elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) won’t bring immigration reform legislation to the House floor while President Obama remains in office. What’s been mentioned less is what will happen when Obama is gone.

Read more at http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/10/30/3717991/paul-ryan-immigration-reform-freedom-caucus/

  • Immigrant family detention centers are prison-like, critics say, despite order to improve - October 23, 2015

Today was the deadline for the federal government to comply with Judge Dolly Gee’s order requiring they improve the conditions and shorten the waiting time that families and children are forced to spend in detention facilities . The order stems from finding that the Obama administration was blatantly disregarding the terms of the 1997 settlement of Flores v. Meese.


While the spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, Jennifer Elzea, alleges that they have worked diligently to ensure DHS is in compliance with the order, no evidence has been submitted to the courts and the number of detainees housed this last month are well over what they were when Judge Gee first ruled her order.


Find out more about the deadline and what it means at http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-immigration-family-detention-20151020-story.html

  • US Commission on Civil Rights REPORT- Liberty and Justice for All: The State of Civil Rights at Immigration Detention Facilities - September 2015

This Statutory Enforcement Report examines the civil rights and constitutional concerns that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Commission) “raised with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its component [agencies] over the treatment of adult and minor [immigrant] detainees [who are being] held under federal law in detention centers across the country.”1 Specifically, this report analyzes the constitutional issues surrounding DHS’s treatment of detained immigrants as well as other selected federal agencies’ efforts to comply with established Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), 2 the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA),3 and the federal standards for detaining unaccompanied minor children.


See more at http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/Statutory_Enforcement_Report2015.pdf

  • Judge orders prompt release of immigrant children from detention - August 22, 2015

Earlier this month, Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the Department of Homeland Security was in violation of the 1997 Flores settlement. She agreed with the earlier settlement terms that children should not be held for more than 72 hours unless they are a significant flight risk or danger to themselves and others.


In her 15-page order, Judge Gee chastised government officials for reiterating the same arguments they had raised in earlier briefings and which she had already rejected. She has given them until October 23rd to comply with her oreder.


Read more about her order at: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-family-detention-children-20150821-story.html

  • Gov. Brown doesn’t want California to use this word for immigrants - August 10, 2015

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a trio of immigration-related measures Monday, including one removing the word “alien” from California’s labor code because it is seen as a disparaging term for those not born in the United States


Read more at http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-gov-jerry-brown-signs-bills-to-help-immigrants-20150810-story.html
  • IACHR REPORT - Refugees and Migrants in the United States: Families and Unaccompanied Children - July 24, 2015

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published a report to analyze the human rights situation of refugee and migrant families and unaccompanied children in the United States. The report’s particular focus is on the lack of adequate screening and identification of persons arriving to the US who may have international protection needs, the arbitrary and automatic regime of immigration detention being applied to families and children, and serious deficiencies in terms of due process guarantees in immigration proceedings. The report looks especially at the rights of children in this context and the serious risks they face. This report also examines the securitization, or the integration of migration and border control issues into security frameworks of the southern border of the United States and the inadequate conditions of immigration detention.


To read the full report go to http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Refugees-Migrants-US.pdf

  • Appellate Court Hears Oral Argument in Texas v. United States - July 13, 2015

This week the 5th circuit court of appeals heard oral arguments for Texas v. US, a case brought by the state of Texas that challenges the legality of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) policy. Despite assurances by the White House that it has a strong legal position in the case to determine the legality of DAPA, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law makes clear in  analysis available on this web site that Obama’s legal position is weak, primarily because of the way in which his Administration drafted DAPA and its refusal to issue the policy as a formal regulation, a step that would greatly strengthen the Administration’s defense of DAPA in the courts and at the same time greatly strengthen the rights DAPA recipients would possess. The DAPA program remains on until the appellate court issues it’s ruling, allowing the proceedings in the Texas district court to resume.


Read more at http://immigrationimpact.com/2015/07/13/appellate-court-hears-oral-argument-in-texas-v-united-states/


Read the analysis prepared by Peter Schey, Director, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

  • DAPA Expanded DACA - April 15, 2015

President Obama has tried his hand at administrative reform primarily by issuing two programs to give some immigrants temporary “deferred action status” and work permits for two to three years if they have U.S. citizen children and have resided here since January 2010 (DAPA), or if they were brought here as children (DACA and expanded DACA).

For now, implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA has been blocked by the federal courts, primarily because the DHS failed to publish DAPA/expanded DACA as “proposed regulations,” and give the public 30 days to comment before implementing the directives as agency regulations.

There are several critically important steps analyzed in the attached report (view or download here) President Obama could take to better protect DACA recipients and potential DAPA recipients. 

At a town hall meeting in Miami on February 25, 2015, the President announced that he would not be deterred by “one federal judge” (i.e. federal district court Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Texas who has enjoined the DAPA/ expanded DACA programs). He told the crowd that his administration will become “even more aggressive in the weeks and months to come … We’re going to be as aggressive as we can.” 

Unfortunately, the Administration decided to issue DAPA/DACA as a “policy” (basically a “privilege” for applicants) that can be changed overnight by any future Administration, rather than as a formal “regulation” (also called a “substantive rule”) that extends real rights to applicants and cannot be cancelled overnight. Under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), a federal agency must first publish a substantive rule in “proposed” (draft) form and the public must be given 30 days to comment before the regulation is finally adopted. The Administration’s refusal to issue DAPA/DACA as a DHS “regulation” has negative legal and practical consequences for millions of potential applicants.

If President Obama published DAPA/DACA as a formal regulation: (1) the legal basis for the current injunction blocking DAPA/expanded DACA would be wiped out without risking lengthy appeals, (2) DAPA/DACA would become a “substantive right” instead of a “privilege” giving applicants and recipients stronger enforceable legal rights, (3) a formal regulation will make it more difficult for a future Administration, without advance notice or the public’s opportunity to comment, to terminate the DAPA/DACA programs (and to place DAPA/DACA recipients in deportation proceedings), and(4) in proposed regulations the Administration could include statements and rules that would substantially decrease the strength of the States' constitutional challenge to DAPA/expanded DACA. 

The full report explaining the status of the Texas v. United States litigation may be viewed or downloaded by selecting this link.
  • House Democrats Call for End of Family Detention - An overwhelming majority of Democrats in the House, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) – sent Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson a letter saying the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “has not fully grasped the serious harm being inflicted upon mothers and children” who are being held in “jail-like” secure facilities awaiting adjudication of their asylum and immigration cases.  “We believe the only solution to this problem is to end the use of family detention,” the letter states.  “Children require special protections and should not be placed in jail-like settings.” Click here to read the letter.
  • NY advocates, legislators push for further restrictions on prison solitary confinement - April 23, 2015

Advocates and some New York legislators on Wednesday called for restricting solitary confinement for state inmates, citing a United Nations expert's conclusion that more than 15 days' isolation damages people mentally. Read More

  • Comprehensive White House Immigration Reform: President Obama is Missing the Boat and Leaving Millions of Immigrants Stranded - April 15, 2015

This report argues that President Obama's immigration reform ship is sinking, but has not yet sunk. The report demonstrates step by step how President Obama can quickly correct the situation and achieve major immigration reform, helping millions of immigrants, with no action needed by Congress. The full report may be viewed or downloaded here. Here is the brief summary of the recommendations:

To protect immigrants' rights under DAPA/DACA, and to overcome the primary reason for the injunction now blocking DAPA/expanded DACA, President Obama should promptly issue formal regulations on DAPA/DACA.

President Obama should adopt regulations allowing all immigrants eligible for family or employment----based visas under existing law, and the parents of DACA recipients, to apply for and be granted "advance parole" (permission to travel abroad and return to the U.S.) for personal or business purposes allowing about two million immigrants to become eligible for adjustment of status.

President Obama should immediately reverse his policy of detaining Central American "mothers" and their children in response to the temporary 2014 "surge" in Central American minors entering the U.S.

The Administration should promptly adopt regulations allowing tens of thousands of Central Americans and Haitians who have been residing continuously in the U.S. for over 25 years on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to obtain lawful permanent resident status.

President Obama should modify the terms of the recently issued Priorities Enforcement Program (PEP) (involving "priorities" for deportation) and adopt the policy as a formal regulation. Immigrants who are not security threats or have not been convicted of serious crimes should be granted "stays of deportation" until the Administration has eliminated the backlog of cases involving national security threats and serious criminal convictions.

President Obama should promptly adopt regulations to increase the number of immigrants granted "waivers" of inadmissibility allowing thousands of immigrants with minor convictions or illegal re-entries to now legalize their immigration status.

The full report may be viewed or downloaded here.

Current Work and Areas of Expertise
The Center is a legal services support center with recognized expertise in complex litigation, constitutional law, and laws targeting vulnerable insular populations including immigrants, refugees, at-risk children, survivors of domestic violence, prisoners in solitary confinement, and member of LGBT communities. A partial list of the Center's major litigation includes the following cases: Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982) (lead counsel for state-wide class of undocumented children denied access to public elementary education because of their immigration status); Reno v. Catholic Social Services, 509 U.S. 43 (1993) (national class action on behalf of persons unlawfully denied legalization under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986); Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292 (1993) (national class action on behalf of children denied release on bail pending the outcome of deportation proceedings); League of United Latin American Citizens v. Wilson, 131 F. 3d 1297 (9th Cir. 1997)(state-wide class action challenging on due process, equal protection and premption grounds the constitutionality of a voter-approved state Proposition denying health care, social services and education to suspected undocumented children and adults); and Orantes-Hernandez v. Smith, 541 F.Supp. 351 (C.D. Cal. 1982) (national class of Salvadoran nationals seeking political asylum in the United States).

Read about our legal support services here.

Refugee Interdiction