Federal Judge Shuts Down Law Groups’ Intervention in Long-Standing Immigration Case

Detainees walk in a hallway of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Tacoma, Wash., last year. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(CN) — A California federal judge denied a motion from nonprofit legal service providers to intervene in a decades-old case that determines the treatment and release of immigration children held by the United States.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, an Obama appointee, currently presides over the landmark 1997 Flores settlement that continues to set national standards for the detention, release and treatment of all immigrant children in federal custody. 

This case has recently taken on new significance, however, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to grip most of the nation — including detention centers for immigrant children.

Spurred by troubling reports in recent months from settlement monitors that detailed worsening health conditions inside detention facilities and unnecessary delays in granting sponsors approval to receive youth in their homes, earlier this summer Gee ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release immigrant children who have been held for more than 20 days at the agency’s Family Residential Centers.

Gee’s directives to ICE, however, have not slowed continued activity in the Flores case that stretches back to the mid-1980s.

This month, a series of class members represented by the People’s Justice Center and Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, two nonprofit legal service providers, brought a motion before Gee to intervene in the case.

According to their motion, the interests of the proposed intervenors were not being “adequately represented and irretrievably at odds with the inexplicable objective of class counsel” regarding an aim to develop a protocol that would waive a class member’s right to be released.

The group added that the increasingly troubling conditions at immigration facilities justified their motion to intervene in the case, claiming that doing so would help to protect their interests.

“Proposed Plaintiffs-Intervenors therefore seek an order immediately granting them leave to intervene to protect their interests in full compliance with the Court’s orders and release from the FRCs, where those interests are not adequately presented — and indeed, have been repeatedly dismissed and ignored — by current class counsel,” the July 20 motion stated.

Judge Gee, however, was not convinced by the group’s arguments.

On Wednesday, she denied the request to intervene on the basis that there is simply no need for it at this time. According to the judge, there is nothing on the record that would suggest that there is a shortage of meaningful, effective class representation.

The judge also points out that in order for an intervening motion to be successful, the proposed intervenors must show that being denied intervention would result in some kind of prejudice or harm being committed against them – a standard that the current motion did not meet.

Gee also said that any claims seeking to challenge the effectiveness of the current class counsel should take a good, hard look at the results the class counsel has managed to produce thus far.

“Given the history of this litigation and the remarkable results of Class Counsel’s advocacy from the inception of this action 35 years ago through the onset of the pandemic, the Court finds that Class Counsel have provided more than adequate representation and that Proposed Plaintiff Intervenors’ interests will not be impaired by denying their application to intervene as of right at this time,” Gee wrote.

While these factors do not support a motion to intervene at this time, Gee said that she continues to value the “unparalleled insight into the daily realities and needs of Class Members and adults in FRCs” and encourages them to continue filing court briefs with the court that help to shed even more light into the needs of those held at immigration detention facilities.

On Saturday, Judge Gee wrote that the release order directed at ICE was unenforceable given the terms of the directive and ordered the parties involved to provide her with a joint status report by Aug. 5 while the case moves forward.

Representatives for both sides of the Flores case did not immediately respond to requests for comment by press time Wednesday evening.

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