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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Home for Immigrant Kids Sues California

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A detention home for undocumented children sued the California Department of Social Services, claiming the state's attempt to shut it down would violate the facility's contract with the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Plaintiff BCFS-Health and Human Services houses boys who are believed to be in the United States illegally, "and who have had some criminal arrest or conviction."

The federal complaint states: "These children, who are also known as 'unaccompanied alien children,' do not have parents or guardians who are available to care for them. The BCFS facility provides shelter and care to these children while the federal government determines the appropriate next steps toward reconnecting them with their families."

The BCFS facility was licensed as a group home in October 2009, and was allowed to house up to 24 children at a time.

But California's Department of Social Services refused to renew its provisional license in October this year, after several visits to the facility revealed several violations.

"In December 2009, a CCL [Community Care Licensing] analyst visited the location and conducted a site visit," the complaint states. "She cited BCFS for one deficiency concerning locks on bedroom doors, which BCFS immediately corrected."

The group home claims it submitted correction plans for violations uncovered at two subsequent visits from the state.

Around the same time of its denial, "CCL sent a formal letter to ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] stating that the children must be removed from the facility within two weeks of receipt of the denial letter."

BCFS claims the violations cited by the state include children's right to wear their own clothes, to make confidential phone calls, to have their own money and not to be locked in any room at the home.

"Defendants have refused to consider the unique concerns and issues relating to the children residing at the BCFS facility, such as the criminal history associated with some of the residents and their illegal status, which makes them a higher runaway risk," the complaint states.

"Further, defendants have failed to consider the obligations that flow from BCFS's grant from ORR, and BCFS's need to provide a safe, secure environment for the group of unaccompanied alien minors at their facility to further the goals and policies of the federal government."

BCFS asks the court to declare the state regulations preempted by federal law, and that the state's denial of licensing a violation of the Supremacy Clause.

It is represented by Marc Koenigsberg with Greenberg Taurig.

The 12-page complaint cites the 1993 settlement of the federal class action Flores v. Reno, which began in 1985 in Laredo, in the first immigration prison the federal government built specifically to imprison children. It was also one of the first immigration prisons run on a private contract, with the Corrections Corporation of America.

Widespread abuses of children in the Laredo prison, including mandatory strip searched before and after each visit with legal counsel, and buck-passing between INS and CCA led to the class action to try to determine what rights, if any, children in INS prisons had.

The Flores settlement agreement listed some putative rights for children. Since then, the INS, now known as ICE, has set up an immense string of lightly regulated and lightly inspected detention homes, often run by religious groups. Many more lawsuits have resulted, alleging abuses such as rape and sexual and physical abuses. Nor is it apparent what, if any, qualifications the people in charge of such homes, or the people who serve as detention officers, need have.

The irony behind the entire tawdry setup is that if the religious groups and other well-meaning, or profit-seeking groups, did not volunteer to imprison the children for the government, the government, for lack of detention space, would have to let them go.

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