MANHATTAN (CN) – Within hours of his appointment by President Trump, Office of Refugee Resettlement director Scott Lloyd established a policy requiring his signature to release immigrant children from agency custody.
The move prompted an injunction Wednesday from U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty, who lambasted Lloyd in a scathing ruling this afternoon for what he called an “arbitrary and capricious” assertion of power.
“The court cannot turn a blind eye to plaintiffs’ suffering and irreparable injury,” Crotty’s 25-page decision states.
Filed one day after a judge in San Diego enjoined Trump’s family-separation policy, Crotty distinguished his ruling in New York from other cases making headlines.
“To be clear, this lawsuit does not deal with the Department of Homeland Security’s new policy of separating children from their undocumented parents at the border,” the judge wrote. “Nor does it deal with ORR’s apparent loss of contact with 1,500 [unaccompanied alien children] under its supervision. Nor the alleged routine and forcible administration of a range of psychotropic drugs at an ORR-funded facility. Nor the ORR’s alleged practice of detaining and transporting UAC to detention facilities without notifying their parents or lawyers. Nor the ORR’s alleged employment of a psychiatrist that has treated children without board certification for nearly a decade.”
Crotty is presiding over a challenge by the New York Civil Liberties Union to the policy Lloyd established in mid-2017, which has led to the continued detention of immigrant children unless Lloyd explicitly approves their release.
“This is at the zenith of impermissible agency actions,” Crotty wrote. “This unlawful agency action keeps plaintiffs — the very subjects that ORR is statutorily mandated to protect — from reuniting with their sponsors for at the very least 35 more days (and likely more than that) in a process which already takes too long.” (Parentheses in original.)
Attorneys for Salvadoran teenager L.V.M. say Lloyd’s policy kept their client locked up away from his family for seven months.
Fleeing gang violence in the country of his birth, the boy and his family found asylum in the United States. He says he never spent a night apart from his mother or had any disciplinary issues until immigration authorities detained him after interpreting a hand gesture he made in his high school hallway as a gang symbol.
Crotty’s ruling Wednesday also grants the NYCLU class certification for the dozens of other children in situations similar to that of L.V.M.
“Each of the plaintiffs’ claims, including the due process claim, arise from the same course of events that involve only the defendants’ conduct,” the ruling states.
Crotty stopped short of ordering the refugee agency to expedite reunification requests “at this time.”
“In these circumstances, an order to expedite the processing is not much more than a direction to ‘hurry up’ and that is not a proper injunction,” the judge said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
NYCLU attorney Paige Austin applauded the decision.
“We hope that today’s decision will help children get out of custody faster and eliminate one tool that this administration has used to further traumatize the children in its care,” Austin said in a statement.
The group’s executive director Donna Lieberman added that the court found Lloyd could no longer act on impulse.
“Today the court ordered the Trump regime to end the cruel policy that gratuitously prolonged the separation of immigrant children from their families and upended their lives,” Lieberman said. “ORR can no longer keep children detained at the whim of a director who has demonstrated little expertise and less consideration for the well-being of children.”