Minors entering the United States without permission must be given a court hearing to determine whether they can be released.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a prior district court ruling. The justices ruled that authorities are still bound by a 1997 lawsuit settlement that guarantees court hearings for minor immigrants. The accord created detention standards and policies that favor the release of undocumented individuals.
Flores vs. Janet Reno established that juveniles detained near the border or elsewhere without a parent are entitled to bond hearings. At those proceedings, they have the right to a lawyer, the opportunity to contest being locked up, and the chance to learn and challenge government evidence against them.
The federal government argued the two laws passed by Congress superseded the settlement and revoked the right to bond hearings.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote, “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.”
The court revealed evidence of the government holding minors for months and years without providing a hearing. Some found themselves detained with the parents readily available to provide the care they needed. In many of those cases, juveniles chose deportation and possible persecution over the continued incarceration separating them from their families.
An attorney for one of the juvenile immigrants claimed a modest victory following the decision. Additional obstacles remain in securing the release of minors to their family members.
Federal government lawyers are exploring options that include a larger 9th Circuit panel or the U.S. Supreme Court.