by Adina Appelbaum, Esq.

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Child Reunited with Grandfather After Being Denied Release Due to Removal Order Being Challenged, COVID-19, and Turning 18

WASHINGTON (April 28, 2020) —  A teen is reunited with his family after being held in immigration custody in Maryland as a result of a decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granting a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). The government cited the child’s removal order pending appeal, which is not a basis for denying reunification with a sponsor, and COVID-19 as reasons for the delay and denial of his reunification.

The District Court ordered the release of the teen from Central America one day before he turned 18. Without this order, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which handles children’s detention, would have transferred him to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which would place him in adult immigration detention, where COVID-19 is not being addressed properly.

The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition filed the emergency lawsuit last week to have the teen released from the shelter facility and won, resulting in Maryland’s first child habeas written decision and one of the first decisions in the country stopping a child from “aging out” to ICE detention. The decision will have a widespread impact on similar child detention cases in Maryland and around the country. CAIR Coalition Immigration Impact Lab Staff Attorney Samantha Hsieh led the drafting of the lawsuit and presented oral arguments to the court during the emergency TRO hearing.

“Families belong together, especially in this time when we need the care of our loved ones more than ever,” said Claudia Cubas, Litigation Director at CAIR Coalition. “This is a small triumph, but we are not done. There are so many other children facing prolonged detention in immigration detention facilities and being sent to ICE detention on their 18th birthday because ORR has delayed their reunifications. The government should seek to reunify these children with their families immediately, not only to prevent them from harm of COVID-19, but also because there is no law that allows the government to keep these children detained when they have a sponsor to go home to.”

The teen, who fled Guatemala due to gang threats, received a positive recommendation to be reunified with family several weeks ago, but the government's reason for the delay of his release kept changing, until last week, when they said he is under quarantine for COVID-19. A Maryland public health official has said that it was safe to release the child to his family with precautionary public health measures. In its response to the lawsuit, the government then denied the reunification application based on the child’s removal order pending appeal, despite the law requiring ORR to promptly reunify children who have sponsors and have not been deemed a flight risk or danger, regardless of whether they have a removal order. CAIR Coalition filed the urgent lawsuit to get the teen out of the facility before he turned 18.

There is currently a national trend of ORR delaying and refusing to reunify children with their sponsors. In addition, ORR has had a track record of delaying and denying reunifications for children who are about to turn 18 so that they can be transferred to ICE detention on their 18th birthday. As CAIR Coalition argued to the District Court, however, ORR’s job is to carry out its child welfare mission and promptly reunify children to place them in the least restrictive setting in their best interests, not do the job of ICE to hold children in detention to effectuate removal orders.

To read the TRO decision, click here.



Sheena Pegarido, CAIR Coalition,, 202-559-4431

The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition strives to ensure equal justice for all immigrant adults and children at risk of detention and deportation in the Capital region area and beyond through direct legal representation, know your rights presentations, impact litigation, advocacy, and the enlistment and training of attorneys to defend immigrants. CAIR Coalition’s Immigration Impact Lab seeks to reduce the disproportionate legal injustices detained immigrant adults and children face by using impact litigation to create legal precedents that benefits broad groups of immigrants, ultimately resulting in systematic change in the justice system. More information can be found at

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