Insights from Professor Lenni Benson: Three Key Points About the Flores Immigration Ruling

On July 5, a federal appeals court in California ruled in Flores, a high-profile case involving immigrant children held in detention by the federal government. The court found that children in detention have the right to request an impartial hearing on their length of detention.

Professor Lenni Benson, who was quoted in media coverage of the ruling, shared three key takeaways:

Here’s the bottom line: The government cannot arrest you and detain you without being made to justify its detention to an independent judicial officer. Juveniles under age 18 have constitutional rights not to be sentenced to incarceration based on unwritten allegations, hearsay, lack of notice, and the lack of counsel. And young people, though foreign-born, should have the same rights to contest their civil detention. The new ruling supports that.

The federal government could try to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The federal government has long maintained that children in detention have no right to a written proceeding, counsel, or an independent hearing officer. They argue that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which manages youth detention facilities, is the only authority that can make decisions about the release or detention of children. But the counsel for the immigrant youth argued that HHS’s denial of hearings violates a 1997 settlement in Flores v. Reno, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

There are young people who will immediately be impacted by this decision. In New York State alone, there are 17,000 pending federal immigration matters involving children. Most children held in detention were fleeing extreme violence and poverty in Central America. Deportation hearings span years, and although many children live with relatives or in foster care while going through the process, some children have been detained in government facilities for more than a year without the ability to challenge their detention. That’s why New York Law School’s Immigration Law and Litigation Clinic—along with a pro bono team from Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP led by Mark Baghdassarian ’99filed an amicus brief in Flores that was co-signed by representatives from more than 20 other law schools. This issue is closely related to the mission of the Safe Passage Project at New York Law School, which represents young people in deportation proceedings, where no free counsel is otherwise provided.

Media Coverage Featuring Professor Benson