A group of legal and immigrant rights advocates filed a new class action suit on Friday against the Trump administration, challenging an array of policies related to the treatment of unaccompanied minor immigrants.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, seeks to end the administration’s policy of indefinitely detaining immigrant children, subjecting the children to forced medication without their parents’ consent, denying them of access to attorneys, and the denying or delay their release to family members or vetted sponsors.
While many lawsuits have been filed challenging the Trump administration’s recent treatment of immigrant families, this new class action is the first to focus solely on the rights of the minor children who either came to the U.S. unaccompanied or were separated from their relatives upon arrival. In seeking class action status for the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “hundreds” of “predominantly indigent, non-English-speaking children…are being denied basic fairness” in the immigration system.
“Abusing children is not among the legitimate tools the government has at its disposal to regulate the border,” Carlos Holguín, an attorney with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, told reporters on a conference call. “They’re using human misery as a means to control immigration.”
The lawsuit is directed at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is run by a Trump appointee with no experience with refugees. The alleged abuses stretch back to as far as January of 2017, a few weeks before President Trump took office, and continue today. The plaintiffs say the administration is causing “grave harm to children” by violating their constitutional right to due process and their rights under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. They are also accusing them of violating the decades-0ld Flores settlement covering the rights of immigrant children in U.S. custody, which the government is currently seeking to abolish in a different case before the same District court.
Among the violations alleged in the new lawsuit, the groups representing the migrant and asylum-seeking children say they are being placed in facilities where they are given psychotropic drugs without parental consent.
“In light of the grave harm to children that we know is posed by psychotropic meds, ORR needs procedures in place to make sure they aren’t being used as chemical straight-jackets to control behavior, which is what we have seen,” said Leecia Welch, a senior attorney with National Center for Youth Law, which is representing children in this case. “These are incredibly powerful drugs that impact the central nervous system, putting children at risk of increasingly intense psychotic episodes and suicidal ideation. These kids are at risk of serious long-term effects, and protections are not currently in place system-wide to protect them from this abuse.”
Welch told reporters on the conference call Friday that the violations of rights alleged in the lawsuit had led to others, including the children’s legal right to an education while in custody.
“We know that children at the on-site school at Shiloh have been involuntarily sedated and left at a desk in the middle of the classroom to fall asleep for four hours,” she said. “You can only imagine how that impacts the education of the children surrounding them.”
Read the full complaint below: