The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that unaccompanied minors detained for immigration offenses are entitled to bail hearings.
According to Politico, the Justice Department had been arguing that a 2002 law transferring responsibility for unaccompanied immigrant minors to the Department of Health and Human Services ‘superseded a 1997 settlement under which the government agreed to provide such hearings.’
However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s three-judge panel disagreed in a written opinion and ruling.
“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,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt. Judges Marsha Berzon and Wallace Tashima backed Reinhard’s ruling.
The government’s contention was that formal meetings between unaccompanied minors and Department of Health and Human Services officials are sufficient to ensure the best interests of detained children are considered.
However, some immigration and children’s rights advocates took issue with the lack of proper legal proceedings, noting that immigration lawyers aren’t allowed at HHS meetings with minors.
Politico notes that the ruling rejected an emergency appeal filed by the Justice Department in February – one of the Trump administration’s first immigration-related moves. The Department had adopted a similar stance under the guidance of Obama-era officials.
“The Justice Department is reviewing the court’s ruling and considering next steps in the litigation,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas.
One lawyer responsible for representing immigrant children in the litigatory process, Holly Cooper, told Politico she was happy with the decision.
“We are elated and think the decision provides a much-needed check on the power to detain a child with no judicial oversight,” she said.
Under the partially nullified agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services, children were typically detained for a brief period of time before being allowed to join available relatives or sponsors in other parts of the country. The minors would have to return to court once a formal hearing is scheduled.
“In the absence of such hearings, these children are held in bureaucratic limbo, left to rely upon the government’s alleged benevolence and opaque decision making,” said Judge Reinhardt, an appointee of former President Jimmy Carter.
The Washington Examiner relays how, approximately three years ago, the United States immigration and judicial system was burdened by thousands of children and adolescents entering the country unaccompanied. Many were fleeing violence, poverty, and political unrest in Central America, creating what the government described as an unprecedented crisis.