Lawyers: Immigrant kids' detention is prolonged, unexplained

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Immigrant advocates said Tuesday they are suing the U.S. government, claiming it is detaining immigrant children too long and improperly refusing to release them to relatives.

A federal lawsuit filed last year in Alexandria, Virginia, was expanded on Friday to propose including the cases of more than 10,000 children.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center, said the Department of Health and Human Services has been slow to release immigrant children to sponsors in the United States and that an agreement to share sponsors' information with deportation officers has deterred some from offering to take the minors.

"Children belong in homes with families, not warehoused in government detention centers," he said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said the agency, which oversees the care and custody of immigrant children stopped on the border, doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Related: National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd:

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National Border Patrol Council president Brandon Judd
UNITED STATES - MARCH 09: Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, is interviewed by CQ in Washington, March 9, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: (L-R) Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies Steven Camarota, President of the National Border Patrol Council Brandon Judd, Director of the Remembrance Project Maria Espinoza, Agnes Gibboney, mother whose son was killed by an undocumented immigrant, and Seth Stodder, Secretary for Boarder of Immigration and Trade Policy, testify during a hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee April 27, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held a hearing on 'The Border Wall: Strengthening our National Security.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: President of the National Border Patrol Council Brandon Judd testifies during a hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee April 27, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held a hearing on 'The Border Wall: Strengthening our National Security.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: (L-R) Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, Center for Immigration Studies fellow Andrew Arthur and Truman Center President and CEO Michael Breen are sworn in before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's National Security Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. The witnesses gave testimony about a caravan of Central American migrants that drew President Donald Trump's ire and was stopped as it moved through Mexico earlier this month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd (L) and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw visit before testifying to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's National Security Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. The witnesses gave testimony about a caravan of Central American migrants that drew President Donald Trump's ire and was stopped as it moved through Mexico earlier this month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: (L-R) Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, Center for Immigration Studies fellow Andrew Arthur and Truman Center President and CEO Michael Breen testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's National Security Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. The witnesses gave testimony about a caravan of Central American migrants that drew President Donald Trump's ire and was stopped as it moved through Mexico earlier this month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump listens to Brandon Judd, President of the National Border Patrol Council, speak about border security in the briefing room at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 3, 2019. - President Trump gave a statement on the government shutdown and border wall in what was his first time behind the podium in the White House briefing room. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, speaks while U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a White House press briefing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Trump congratulated Nancy Pelosi on her 'tremendous achievement' while he also pushed for funds for a border wall. Photographer: Tasos Katopodis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The filing on behalf of children and their sponsors comes shortly after a detention camp housing migrant teenagers in Texas was shuttered and amid a partial government shutdown that has dragged for nearly a month over the Trump administration's demand for a wall on the southwest border.

Immigrant children who are stopped on the border alone are placed in the custody of HHS until they are released to screened sponsors in the United States. About 50,000 unaccompanied immigrant children were caught on the southwest border during the last fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Kayla Vazquez, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she has been trying to get her husband's 17-year-old cousin released from federal custody since immigration authorities stopped him on the U.S.-Mexico border in August.

Vazquez said she has been repeatedly asked for documents from social workers that her family has already supplied to sponsor the teen, and fears the U.S. government is stalling until he turns 18 and can be transferred to an adult detention facility.

"I feel like they're playing a game and they're just keeping him there to have the family suffer," she told reporters on a conference call.

 

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