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Asylum-Seeking Kids Win Class Action in Health Care Lawsuit

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. | Last updated on

The mental health of migrant children trumps the federal government shutdown, hands-down, according to a Los Angeles federal court judge. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee certified the class of detained asylum-seeking migrant children requesting mental health aid, and firmly dismissed the government's request to delay the suit until after the federal shutdown has ended.

Noting that the judge can issue a court order forcing federal attorneys to work on this case, despite the shutdown, Gee proclaimed, "the prosecution of this action should not be further delayed because it concerns the health and welfare of minors in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement." The judge then required the administration to respond to the children's claims by Jan. 9 and to discovery requests by Feb. 22.

Judge Issued Four Part Ruling

In Gee's ruling, four orders were given. First, the federal government's request for a continuance was denied. Second, the judge certified a class that currently contains five children with either mental disabilities, given psychotropic drugs without consent, detained for more than 30 days without notice, or blocked from being released to guardians. However, the class size is expected to reach into the hundreds. Third, the judge modified the class definition from the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Rehabilitation Act; the Rehabilitation Act requires class members to actually be denied service, whereas the ADA only requires that they could be denied service.

Lastly, the judge denied the plaintiff's request for immediate discovery, claiming that they hadn't proven why it needs to start immediately, as opposed to the current schedule set. Judge Gee also stated that plaintiffs hadn't clearly defined the scope of discovery.

Underlying Case Highlights Due Process Violations of Migrant Children and Their Mental Health

At issue in this case is the alleged constitutional due process violation of hundreds of migrant children that have been separated from their families while crossing the southern U.S. border, seeking asylum. Many of these children's mental health have suffered while in detention with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, but instead of providing mental health care, many are just handed psychotropic drugs or left to linger.

According to recent court rulings, all children must be reunited with their families within 30 days, however facilities are now claiming that these children can't be released until they are mentally sound, or the family homes to which they are being released are capable of handling a child with mental health issues. Instead of 30 days to reunify, some of these plaintiffs have been separated over a year, with no end in sight because they are not being given mental health care.

If you know of a child that is suffering mental health issues due to refugee detainment, contact an immigration attorney. The child may be able to join this class action, potentially at no cost.

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