Victory as Groups Settle Lawsuit on Unlawful Detention of Unaccompanied Youth

September 8, 2022
Last modified: 
September 8, 2022

WASHINGTON— Yesterday, a federal court approved a settlement agreement in a lawsuit challenging the unlawful detention of unaccompanied children who turn 18 in U.S. government custody and are transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities. In an agreement approved by the district court the detention of migrant teenagers and awardapproved by court, ICE gave up their appeal fight.

The settlement follows more than four years of litigation in which U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras found ICE flagrantly violated immigration laws, requiring ICE to change its policies and practices to avoid further unlawful detention of 18-year-olds. The nationwide class-action lawsuit, Garcia Ramirez  v. ICE, was litigated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Kirkland & Ellis LLP was lead counsel on the case with co-counsel from the National Immigrant Justice Center and the American Immigration Council.

In a 2020 ruling following a four-week bench trial, the district court found that the U.S. government routinely and systematically failed to adhere to a statute that requires them to consider placement in “the least restrictive setting available,” and to provide alternatives to detention as required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. A year later, the district court issued a permanent injunction to remedy ICE’s systemic violations of the law, finding, "An agency that had shown a responsiveness to prior decisions more proactively and not attempted to shirk its legal obligations could perhaps be counted on to effectively implement remedial measures and police itself without the specter of a formal injunction," Judge Contreras wrote in a September 2021. "But …the court continues to harbor doubts about ICE's ability to do so here."

The U.S. government appealed those orders, and that appeal was dismissed yesterday as a part of the court’s approval of the parties’ settlement agreement.

“We are very happy to see this years-long litigation come to a conclusion in such a way where its impact already is evident across the system we set out to change,” said Mark Fleming, associate director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center. This settlement secures valuable protections for unaccompanied immigrant youth, who should not have to worry about being sent to an immigration jail on their 18th birthdays. It also provides for critical monitoring and accountability over ICE, an agency that too often has been allowed to operate with impunity as it violates U.S. laws and basic human rights. We’ll continue to work with our partners to ensure that ICE abides by the court’s order.”

“This settlement agreement secures and finalizes our previous victories for unaccompanied youth, which required ICE to address its systemic violations of our laws governing the detention of migrant teens, including overhauling its training and procedures and providing monthly reports to class counsel on their compliance with the injunction,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, director of litigation for the American Immigration Council. “We are thrilled that this lawsuit has already helped so many young people avoid detention, and yesterday’s settlement assures that the lawsuit will continue to help future unaccompanied teens.”

Read about the settlement and court order:




 For more information, contact:

Brianna Dimas at the American Immigration Council, [email protected] or 202-507-7557.

Media Contact

Elyssa Pachico
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