LOS ANGELES - Five immigrant children filed a federal complaint in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles Friday alleging that the government is "causing grave harm to children" by detaining them for long periods of time in overly restrictive conditions and forcing them to take psychotropic medication, in violation of the law.
The lawsuit seeks class action status, and asks the court to block the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) from placing children in detention. The five children say they have endured physical and emotional abuse while detained.
The children are represented by the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the organizations that worked on Flores v Reno, the 1997 Supreme Court case which created national standards for holding immigrant children in custody.
"The children named in the lawsuit have been in federal custody for up to a year and a half, been administered psychotropic medications without consent, and been denied release to family members for manufactured reasons or without any reason provided at all, and with no opportunity to even review, much less appeal, the government's decisions," read a statement by the NCYL.
Among the children who are plaintiffs is a 16-year-old girl from Honduras who has been detained for 11 months. The Office of Refugee Resettlement allegedly refuses to release her to her sister unless she can pay $500 a month for the girl's medication and move to a home with a separate room for the girl. Another plaintiff is a 12-year-old boy who has also allegedly been forced to take psychotropic drugs and and has no legal counsel to assist him with regard to the drugs or his detention. Like the girl, the boy also has a sister in the U.S. who can care for him.
A 17-year-old plaintiff who has been detained for more than a year claims he has been repeatedly assaulted by ORR staff.
"One time he had to wash pepper spray out of his eyes with toilet water," National Center for Youth Law spokesperson Lewis Cohen said on a conference call with reporters Friday.
Another 17-year-old says she has been placed on numerous psychotropic medications for which ORR has not received the consent of her grandfather, who is her closest U.S. relative. A 13-year-old plaintiff says he has suffered physical abuse at the hands of older youths in the facility where he's held.
The statement continues: "The complaint charges the government with inappropriately detaining children in unnecessarily restrictive detention centers without fair process, unlawfully medicating children without parental or other appropriate authorization, and failing to promptly release children to family members in the United States. It also alleges that the government is violating the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by obstructing detained children from accessing lawyers and failing to provide due process."
In response to CBS News' questions about the lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families said they had a policy against commenting on pending litigation.