Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law
       

     

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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                          

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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.

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UPDATES

Fundraiser to Help CHRCL Locate, Reunite, and Protect Immigrant Children - April 16, 2018

CHRCL is raising money to insure that all immigrant children separated from their parents by President Trump and facing deportation without hearings before judges are identified, interviewed by volunteer attorneys and mental health specialists, have more than a few minutes a week to communicate with their parents, and that parental decision-making over their children is immediately restored. 

With several hundred volunteer attorneys (over 3,000 have already offered to volunteer), mental health specialists and interpreters, we have already started interviewing detained children in U.S. Border Patrol stations, all ICE detention facilities and facilities operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in various parts of the country. We plan to interview and assess the situations of all separated children.

How is this possible? Since 1997, CHRCL has had a nationwide settlement with the government that sets the national standards for the humane treatment and option for prompt release from custody of detained immigrant children. Under the settlement, CHRCL is the only non-governmental organization in the country permitted to inspect every detention site where children are held and to interview and assess the treatment of all detained children. President Trump is now asking the federal court to undo the protections children have under the nationwide Flores settlement. This week, CHRCL is fighting that effort in the federal courts.

The goals of the immediate campaign are straightforward: 

  • Locate and interview all separated children nationwide.

  • Insure they have frequent telephonic contact with their parents

  • Restore parents’ decision-making over their children

  • Insure the government promptly and humanely reunites children with their parents.

  • Oppose President Trump’s emergency request to the federal court to end legal protections the nationwide Flores settlement provides for detained children

President Trump wants “zero tolerance” for children and their parents fleeing persecution and seeking safe haven in the United States. We should have “zero tolerance” for President Trump’s cruel and unlawful separation of children from their parents, coercing their parents to plead guilty to crimes by holding their children as hostages, and declared intention to detain children as long as he wishes and then deport them without hearings to assess their asylum claims. 

Your voice matters and you can be part of the solution.

You may donate to help this campaign achieve its goals: Donate Now.

  • Legal Aid Groups Sue Office of Refugee Resettlement Alleging Arbitrary "Step-ups," Administering Detained Children Psychotropic Drugs Without Parental Consent, and Failing to Provide Due Process in Evaluating Potential Custodians for Detained Juveniles - April 16, 2018
On April 16, 2018, the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, the National Center for Youth Law, and the Immigration Clinic of the University of California at Davis sued the Office of Refugee Resettlement, alleging that the following policies and practices violate the Flores settlement:
  1. ORR's policy and practice to "step up" detained youth from shelters to staff-secure, secure and residential treatment centers without providing youth meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard regarding the agency's justification for step-up.
  2. ORR's policy and practice to administer powerful psychotropic medications to detained youth regardless of their wishes and without securing their parents' consent.
  3. ORR's policy and practice to deny or delay detained children's release on the grounds their parents or other available custodians are or may harm or neglect them without providing meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard regarding a potential custodian's actual propensity to harm or neglect.
Plaintiffs' brief and publicly available evidence supporting the motion are available here.

Questions regarding this litigation or reports of similar violations may be directed to the Center's General Counsel, Carlos Holguín, crholguin<@>centerforhumanrights.org.
  • Ninth Circuit Rules that Children in ORR Custody Must be Provided Custody Hearings - July 5, 2017

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in the nationwide class action case, Flores v. Sessions, that minors in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) must be afforded a hearing before an immigration judge to determine whether they may be continued in federal custody on grounds of dangerousness or flight-risk. The court of appeals affirmed an order of the United States District Court for the Central District of California holding that neither the 2002 Homeland Security Act nor the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act supersede the 1997 Flores Settlement, which provides that a “minor in deportation proceedings shall be afforded a bond redetermination hearing before an immigration judge” in all cases except where affirmatively declined.

 

Writing for a unanimous court, Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt held, “Not a single word in either statute indicates that Congress intended to supersede, terminate, or take away any right enjoyed by unaccompanied minors at the time of the acts’ passage… Thus, we hold that the statutes have not terminated the Flores settlement’s bond-hearing requirement for unaccompanied minors.”

 

The Court reasoned that without bond hearings, detained immigrant and refugee "children [would] have no meaningful forum in which to challenge [the government’s] decisions,” and would be stuck in a “bureaucratic limbo.”

 

CHRCL General Counsel, Carlos Holguín, who argued the cause before the Ninth Circuit on behalf of the plaintiff children, praised the court for vindicating the fundamental right of children to be heard when government seeks to incarcerate them.
 

The Ninth Circuit's opinion is available through this link.


Materials relating to ORR's implementing the hearing requirement are available here.

  • Federal District Court Rules that DHS policy of non-release for Flores Class Members and detention conditions at CBP facilities violated the Flores Settlement Agreement - June 27, 2017

    Today, Federal District Judge Dolly M. Gee in the Central District of California issued an order in the nationwide class action case Flores v. Sessions. (See the full Order through this link). The Order states that DHS (including ICE and CBP) may not detain immigrant children by simply placing them into "expedited removal" proceedings and then arguing they are subject to "mandatory detention." This detention policy violates the 1997 Flores nationwide settlement that sets out a presumption of release for minors - i.e. minors must be released unless there is substantial evidence they are a danger to themselves or others or a flight risk. While federal law enacted in 1996 states that most immigrants in expedited removal proceedings are subject to mandatory detention, in the 1997 Flores settlement the Government agreed to individually assess each apprehended minor for release and to release minors unless a minor is a flight or safety risk. Judge Gee makes clear that DHS cannot legally and consistent with the Flores settlement hold minors in so-called "mandatory detention." From the time a minor is taken into custody, DHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement with jurisdiction over unaccompanied minors, must take steps aimed at release to any available parents, other relatives, adults designated by a parent, or licensed group homes.

     

    The court also ordered that DHS's treatment of children in border patrol stations in the Rio Grand Sector are inhumane and violate the settlement. The Court ordered DHS to provide adequate space for children to sleep, to provide soap, towels, showers and other hygiene products to children, to keep air temperatures at moderate levels, to provide clean water and to provide adequate food. The court ruled that providing detained children with these minimally humane conditions is required by the settlement's language that DHS must treat children with concern for the "particular vulnerability of minors," as well as the settlement's requirement that conditions of detention be "safe and sanitary."

     

    The Court also decided that for children detained beyond the time required to process them for possible release, DHS's only three family detention centers (Karnes TX, Dilley TX, Berks PA) operate in violation of the settlement because they are not licensed. The settlement requires that all minors not released be housed in facilities licensed for the care of dependent children.  

     

    The court ordered DHS to nominate someone to fill the position of "Juvenile Coordinator," a DHS employee provided for by the Flores settlement but not filled for many years by the Government.  The Order states that the Juvenile Coordinator "will monitor compliance with those terms of the Flores Agreement, which this Court has found must be enforced and shall report directly to the Court regarding the status of Defendants' compliance." Once the court approves a monitor, it will flush out in more detail what it wants monitored and how it wants to receive monitoring reports. Plaintiffs had requested an outside monitor. The Court stated that if the Juvenile Monitoring doesn't help bring DHS into compliance with the settlement, appointment of an independent monitor will be considered.

     

    You can view the full Order issued by the Court through this link.

     

    Flores Class Counsel, Peter Schey and Carlos Holguin have prepared a memorandum discussing this Order in full. You can access the memo directly through this link.


  • Legal aid groups win order requiring Office of Refugee Resettlement to afford detained unaccompanied immigrant and refugee minors due process hearings - January 20, 2017
The Center for Human Rights, U.C. Davis Law School Legal Clinic, and the Youth Law Center today won a class-wide order compelling 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 contended 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 countered that the TVPRA's  raison d'être is to confer greater protection on unaccompanied children, not expose them to peremptory detention. Plaintiffs also presented 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.
Click here to see the court's enforcement order.
    • 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.

    • CHILDREN SEEKING ASYLUM ASK FEDERAL COURT TO END THEIR DETENTION AND APPOINT A MONITOR TO OVERSEE OBAMA'S DETENTION POLICY - May 19, 2016

    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 

    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.



    • 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

  • 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

  • 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


  • 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



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.


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Refugee Interdiction