Hundreds of Children Detained for Months Due to New Rule Requiring Scott Lloyd's 'personal Approval' for Release

Hundreds of immigrant children in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) have been delayed from reuniting with their families for months due to a new Trump administration policy, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has revealed.

The policy, instituted by ORR Director Scott Lloyd—who took charge of the agency in March 2017—requires that his "personal approval" be given before any immigrant child under "heightened supervision" can be released.

In a bid to reunite children with their families, the NYCLU filed an "urgent" motion on Tuesday evening, asking a judge to halt the ORR's new policy and ensure that children in custody in New York are "promptly released and reunited with family members," they said in a press release.

"Hundreds of children have been locked up for months and separated from their families because of a heartless and irrational policy that is preventing children from reuniting with their sponsors as soon as possible," NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said in a statement.

"The Trump administration has transformed an agency dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable immigrants, including many children who have faced trauma and violence, into one dedicated to punishing them," he added.

The lead plaintiff in the NYCLU's class action lawsuit, identified only as LVM, was initially placed in a higher security facility due to what the union called "unfounded accusations of gang membership."

An immigration judge ruled that LVM posed no threat and his case workers concluded that the plaintiff should be returned to his mother's care. However, the ORR kept LVM in custody until the NYCLU filed its lawsuit.

The NYCLU said that while the ORR is "tasked with protecting immigrant children and reuniting them with family sponsors... under the direction of Lloyd, the length of stay in detention for children whose release Mr. Lloyd must personally approve has grown exponentially."

In New York, children are being detained for an average of eight months, while 20 percent of children detained are being held for more than a year, according to the union.

The NYCLU said Lloyd's policy of requiring his personal approval for children's release has played a major role in slowing down the process of seeing young people reunited with their families.

In a deposition, Lloyd told NYCLU attorneys that he had adopted the policy "within hours" of becoming ORR director, without carrying out an analysis of the impacts of such a decision, the union said.

The civil rights union said that in the year since Lloyd became director of the ORR, more than 700 children have been subject to the policy requiring director-level approval for release. However, only 12 percent have been released to adult sponsors so far, despite more than 90 percent of all children in ORR custody being released within 25 to 45 days in previous years.

"Mr Lloyd has claimed that the policy of reviewing the cases of immigrant children who had been in heightened supervision placements is intended to assess their 'dangerousness,'" the NYCLU said. "Yet, ORR already has practices in place to evaluate both the children and their proposed family sponsors."

Read more: Scott Lloyd says undocumented minors do not have constitutional right to abortions

The union added that most of the children being held for approval are no longer in heightened supervision placements, meaning the agency has concluded that they do not pose any threat.

"The Office of Refugee Resettlement is supposed to place children with sponsors as quickly as possible, but over the last year the Trump administration has ignored that requirement–using unfounded accusations of dangerousness as an excuse," Paige Austin, an NYCLU staff attorney, said in a statement.

"Prolonged detention has an extremely harmful impact on these young people," Austin added. "These are teens who fled abuse and violence, some struggle with mental health issues, and all of them are anxious to get out of detention and be with their families and communities."

Since taking up his role as director of the ORR, Lloyd has seen a high level of personal involvement in decision-making on individual cases.

The NYCLU said his increased level of involvement represents a "sharp departure from best practices for child welfare organizations."

In addition to necessitating his personal approval for the release of young people who have been held under "heightened supervision," Lloyd has also directly intervened to prevent girls in custody from accessing reproductive care, including abortions.

In March, a federal judge blocked the ORR from interfering with undocumented minors' reproductive healthcare as part of ongoing litigation launched by the ACLU to stop the Trump administration from halting abortions for detained youth.

Lloyd had previously said in a deposition delivered in December that he did not believe undocumented minors had a "constitutional right to abortion" because of their immigration status.

The NYCLU said it expects a ruling on its motion demanding that the ORR release immigrant children being held under Lloyd's new approval policy this spring.