Immigration Rights issue image

Saravia v. Barr

Status: Ongoing
Last Update: October 22, 2020

What's at Stake

In June 2017, the ACLU, ACLU of NC, and Cooley LLP sued then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement for using unsubstantiated claims of gang affiliation to illegally detain teenagers in jail-like facilities in California.


The suit charged ORR with accepting ICE’s unsubstantiated gang allegations and placing children in severely restrictive conditions, even though the government had previously released the youth to the custody of their parents.

Plaintiffs were transported to distant detention facilities without notice to their parents or lawyers and were not afforded a chance to challenge the charges against them. The suit also alleged that defendants were unlawfully denying immigration benefits to the youth, relying on the same unsubstantiated and flawed gang allegations.

In November 2017, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California granted our motions for class certification and preliminary injunction, ordering the government to provide each of the detained children with a hearing within seven days of their arrest, at which the government would have to justify the arrest before a neutral decision-maker.

Over 35 children were granted hearings pursuant to this order, and over 30 of them were released because the government’s evidence of gang affiliation was either flimsy or non-existent. The injunction was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in October 2018.

In September 2020, we reached a settlement with the government, subject to court approval, that will prevent any recurrence of these practices and provide additional protections to class members going forward. The proposed settlement also requires defendants to adopt policies and procedures concerning class members’ applications for immigration benefits, to give them a fair opportunity to respond to any allegations of gang membership.

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