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Court Rules Minors Who Enter U.S. Without Permission Have Right To Hearing

Eric Gay / File / AP

FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2014, file photo, detained immigrant children line up in the cafeteria at the Karnes County Residential Center, a temporary home for immigrant women and children detained at the border, in Karnes City, Texas.

Eric Gay / File / AP

The federal court's decision was welcomed by immigrant advocates, including Helen Lawrence, a San Francisco attorney who's worked for several years on behalf of immigrant youth in detention.

"The decision simply reaffirms that children have the basic right to a bond hearing before an immigration judge," says Lawrence.

She says it's a right that the majority of detained adult immigrants have as well.

A 1997 settlement known as Flores is at the center of the federal case. Lawrence says it set minimum standards for the treatment of detained immigrant children.

"The two main things of that settlement are that children should be held in the least restrictive setting possible and that they should be released to a parent, legal guardian or licensed entity as soon as possible."

It was under the Obama administration that the federal government shifted away from the requirement for bond hearings for detained immigrant youth, according to Holly Cooper, co-director of the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic and co-counsel on the federal court case.

Cooper says the change began roughly two years ago, around the time of an enormous surge of immigrants at the U.S. border, many of whom came from Central America.

"The federal government told us that they were no longer going to abide by the settlement agreement which provided that children had the right to a bond hearing."

Cooper sees the Court's decision as a way of restoring judicial oversight to the detention of immigrant children by federal authorities.

In making its case, government attorneys argued that two laws passed by Congress trumped the earlier settlement and negated the requirement of a bond hearing. 

The Department of Justice did not grant an interview for this story. A statement from the agency says they will review the Court's ruling and consider next steps in litigation.

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