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February 12, 2021

ABA joins lawsuit to help persecuted immigrant children

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2021 – The American Bar Association today joined a lawsuit challenging federal government actions that effectively prevent many unaccompanied children who have suffered persecution and abuse in their home countries from securing all the legal protections available to them in the United States.

The lawsuit alleges that the federal government is denying basic legal rights to unaccompanied children who are fleeing violence and who have entered the United States at the southern border. The government actions affect children who were originally prevented from entering the U.S. under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the Remain in Mexico program.

MPP forces immigrants and asylum-seekers at the southwestern border, including children accompanied by one or both parents, to wait in dangerous Mexican border towns while many of their cases are processed in MPP tent courts constructed at the border. The Biden administration has promised to end MPP, but the policy remains in force while the new administration studies how to proceed.

Some of these children originally processed under MPP have entered the United States on their own and are designated unaccompanied, yet they are denied critical protections afforded to other unaccompanied children under the law. The lawsuit seeks to ensure safe treatment and legal processes for these children.

“It is inexcusable for the United States to turn a blind eye to defenseless children who seek our protection,” ABA President Patricia Lee Refo said. “Under United States law and international law, unaccompanied children who enter the United States are entitled to certain legal protections — including meaningful access to lawyers and due process — that they are not getting now. This lawsuit aims to stop those illegal practices and bring justice to vulnerable children.”

Today, the ABA’s immigration project in Harlingen, Texas — the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, or ProBAR — became a co-plaintiff in the case, which is pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Based in the Rio Grande Valley, ProBAR is the largest provider of legal services to unaccompanied children in the U.S. immigration system. In 2019, ProBAR served nearly 20,000 child immigrants and asylum-seekers in government-sponsored shelters, ranging in age from newborns to 17 years old. Most have a limited grasp of the English language and little to no knowledge of the U.S. immigration system. Many are survivors of trauma, abuse and/or neglect.

ProBAR joins the two original plaintiffs, the Immigration Defenders Law Center, based in Los Angeles, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), based in San Antonio, Texas. A fourth plaintiff — The Door, a New York nonprofit that helps immigrants — also joined the lawsuit today. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is providing pro bono support. The case is Immigration Defenders Law Center v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act. It seeks an injunction forcing the government to comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

A copy of the amended complaint is available here.


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