Unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant children have the right to a court hearing to determine whether they can be released, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the government’s argument that laws passed after the 1997 Flores v Reno Supreme Court case replaced the bond hearing requirement by giving a federal agency authority over unaccompanied minors. That agency is the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“In the absence of such hearings, these children are held in bureaucratic limbo, left to rely upon the agency’s alleged benevolence and opaque decision making,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the court, later adding: “Not a single word in either statute indicates that Congress intended to supersede, terminate, or take away any right enjoyed by unaccompanied minors at the time of the acts’ passage. Thus, we hold that the statutes have not terminated the Flores Settlement’s bond-hearing requirement for unaccompanied minors.”
The United States saw a surge of unaccompanied minors at the southern border in 2014, though the number of apprehensions at the border have since dropped. Immigrants rights advocates see the ruling as a victory for undocumented children, but the ruling could also place a greater burden on the nation’s immigration court system, which is overseen by the Justice Department. Those courts have more than half a million cases pending, according to a March report by the Executive Office for Immigration Review.