Immigration group accuses ICE of illegally jailing 18-year-olds

Immigration group accuses ICE of illegally jailing 18-year-olds
© Greg Nash

An immigrant advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on behalf of teenagers who were transferred from government shelters to ICE detention centers upon turning 18.

“Teens who flee alone to seek safety in the United States need our protection and support, which should not suddenly disappear on their 18th birthdays,” said National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) litigation attorney Kate Melloy Goettel.

In the lawsuit filed Monday, NIJC argues that, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013, when unaccompanied immigrant children in custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement turn 18, ICE is required to place the immigrant in the “least restrictive setting available” after taking into account the immigrant’s well-being and risk of flight.

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This can include placing the immigrants with sponsors or supervised homes, NIJC said.

“Congress extended some protections afforded to unaccompanied immigrant children beyond when they turned 18. Imprisoning young men and women makes them vulnerable to abuse, and risks traumatizing those who already have fled persecution or survived perilous journeys,” Melloy Goettel said.

According to NIJC, ICE has “routinely and systemically failed to comply with the law” and the federal government has failed to ensure ICE complies with the law.

The lawsuit was filed in the District Court for D.C.