Trump’s refugee agency chief just got told to stop personally controlling kids’ lives. Again.

It's at least the third time a judge has told Scott Lloyd to butt out.
July 31, 2018, 7:43pm

A judge told a Trump administration official to stop personally interfering in immigrant children’s lives. Again.

Judge Dolly Gee from the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled Monday that the government must transfer all children out of the Shiloh Residential Treatment Center in Texas, a facility for immigrant children who the government claims have behavioral or mental health problems.

Shiloh is operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a Department of Health and Human Services agency tasked with handling minors who arrive alone at the border. Advocates for immigrant youth sued the agency over allegations that doctors forcibly dosed children at Shiloh with sedatives and other drugs without first seeking permission from their parents or guardians.

In Monday’s ruling, the judge also said that Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Scott Lloyd must stop personally approving the release or transfer of every immigrant minor held in the agency’s jail-like “secure” and “staff-secure” facilities, which operate with a higher level of security than other shelters typically used to house immigrant kids. That policy, which Lloyd allegedly implemented just hours after he took over the office in March 2017, allegedly led to kids languishing for an average of eight months in government custody, according to a lawsuit filed in February by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The ruling is at least the third time a court has ordered Lloyd to back off.

In June, a federal judge in Manhattan also ordered Lloyd to stop his new policy, a ruling that’s still in effect. The decision — a response to the NYCLU lawsuit — found that the policy lacked a clear rationale and could lead to “irreparable harm” for children affected by it.

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As of May 15, the Office of Refugee Resettlement kept around 60 to 70 kids in “secure” facilities, around 130 to 140 in “staff-secure” facility,” and 30 to 40 in residential treatment centers, according to data obtained by VICE News. Altogether, Lloyd’s policy affected at least 747 children, according to the NYCLU.

“What’s powerful about our decision and also Judge Gee’s decision is that it shows that ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] does not have unfettered discretion to treat kids however it wants, and to keep kids in its custody however it wants, and to subject them to whatever requirements it wants before letting them go home,” said Paige Austin, an NYCLU staff attorney. “The simple fact that courts can review those actions, we hope, could empower other courts in the future to review other actions that ORR takes with respect to children.”

There’s no evidence that Lloyd kept personally intervening in the release or transfer of immigrant children after the injunction, Austin said. The government, however, could try to appeal the Manhattan judge’s decision.

“Redundancy in terms of court orders is a good thing, since every order by a district court can be appealed,” Austin said.

Lloyd, who has spent much of his career in anti-abortion advocacy, also originally required pregnant minors in his office’s custody to secure his personal approval before undergoing an abortion. In a December deposition with the ACLU, Lloyd said this requirement merely followed agency policy. But former Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Bob Carey told VICE News that he never personally signed off on anybody’s ability to get an abortion.

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A total of four undocumented teenagers in government custody ended up suing the Trump administration over the policy. In March, a federal judge issued a ruling that barred agency officials, Lloyd included, from interfering with pregnant minors’ access to abortion or forcing minors to tell their families about their decisions to get the procedure.

Monday’s ruling is the latest decision in a decades-old legal agreement known as the Flores settlement, which tries to guarantee that immigrant kids in government custody are treated humanely. Now, the only way kids will be allowed to stay in Shiloh, the Texas facility, is if a medical professional decides they pose a danger to others or themselves. The shelter, however, can no longer dose kids with psychotropic drugs unless officials have written consent from a parent or another person authorized to approve medical treatment.

Keegan Hamilton contributed reporting.

Cover image: Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the oversight of the U.S. refugee admissions program, on Capitol Hill, October 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)