Pro Bono Team Secures Release of 5-Year-Old Boy with Brain Injury from ICE Detention Center in Texas, with Mom and Baby Sibling

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Working with the New York City-based Rapid Defense Network (RDN) and the Reading, PA-based ALDEA – The People’s Justice Center (ALDEA), global law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP helped secure the release of a 5-year-old boy with a traumatic brain injury from an immigration detention center, along with the release of his mother and baby brother.

"I'm very proud of the 10 Greenberg Traurig, RDN, and ALDEA attorneys and staff who responded immediately to requests for assistance,” said Caroline J. Heller, chair of GT’s Pro Bono Program. “This child’s wellbeing became our number one priority, and we could not be more thrilled with the outcome.”

Working with the New York City-based Rapid Defense Network (RDN) and the Reading, PA-based ALDEA – The People’s Justice Center (ALDEA), global law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP helped secure the release of a 5-year-old boy with a traumatic brain injury from an immigration detention center, along with the release of his mother and baby brother.

“I am very proud of the 10 Greenberg Traurig, RDN, and ALDEA attorneys and staff who responded immediately to requests for assistance,” said firm Shareholder Caroline J. Heller, chair of Greenberg Traurig’s Pro Bono Program. “This child’s wellbeing became our number one priority, and we could not be more thrilled with the outcome.”

The client family is from Guatemala and living in Los Angeles, California while pursing asylum claims. In late December 2019, 5-year-old “Max” fell, fracturing his skull, and suffering a brain bleed. A doctor at a Los Angeles hospital diagnosed Max with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The doctor instructed Max’s mother, Mrs. V, to monitor his physical condition and behavior, and to make an appointment for a follow-up examination with a pediatric neurologist and neurosurgeon, who could then evaluate whether the fracture was healing and establish a treatment plan. Mrs. V scheduled a follow-up appointment, but before that date arrived, Max and his family–which includes his father and baby brother–were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Mrs. V and the children were flown to a family detention facility in Texas. During and after the flight, Max complained about headaches and drowsiness.

“Once at the detention center, Mrs. V told ICE about Max’s TBI and the doctor’s instructions, but ICE refused to provide Max with access to the necessary doctors for a follow-up examination. ICE also informed the family that it intended to deport Mrs. V and her children to Guatemala, without even a medical determination as to whether it was safe for Max to fly,” Heller said.

RDN and ALDEA – frequent collaborators defending noncitizens’ rights – learned about Max’s case from Dr. Amy Cohen, an advocate working with the family, after the family had been in detention for more than a week. RDN and ALDEA reached out to Greenberg Traurig on a Friday evening in February to partner with them in an effort to get Max the medical attention he required. RDN had also learned that ICE planned to deport the family as early as that Sunday. Thus, an Emergency Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus had to be filed in the District Court for the Central District of California that Friday, along with a motion for a temporary restraining order to prohibit ICE from deporting the family and requiring that Max be allowed to visit a pediatric neurologist and pediatric neurosurgeon.

Within hours, Greenberg Traurig assembled a California-based team: Of Counsel, Adam Siegler, and Associates Michael Neighbors and J onathan K. Ogata. Project Assistant Michael Fairfax and Regional Operating Director in the firm’s Los Angeles office, Jim D. Burns, were also instrumental members of the team.

“Even though we received this case on a Friday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time, I was not at all surprised by the immediate response of my colleagues to volunteer. Cases like these are especially heartbreaking when they involve a child. With everyone’s tireless work, the combined team of Greenberg Traurig, RDN, and ALDEA filed the Petition just before midnight Pacific time that Friday, and filed the Motion around 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning,” Heller said.

The District Court scheduled a hearing for that Monday morning attended by Siegler and Ogata. The District Court Judge denied the Motion from the bench. The team immediately filed a Notice of Appeal to the Ninth Circuit and prepared an emergency motion for an administrative stay of deportation pending an interlocutory appeal from the District Court order. The team members liaised with the Ninth Circuit to make certain that a panel was available to review the emergency motion filed on Monday evening.

It was a race against time, but the team did not back down, Heller noted.

A few hours after the emergency motion was filed, the team learned that ICE had informed Mrs. V she was to pack her bags; ICE planned to deport the family in a matter of hours. The team immediately contacted the Ninth Circuit, which then issued an order staying the family’s removal.

The Ninth Circuit also ordered that Mrs. V and Max be permitted to consult with a with a pediatric neurologist and neurosurgeon to determine appropriate emergency treatment, if any, and to secure a medical determination as to whether it was safe for Max to travel by airplane. But had to do so within seven days.

Greenberg Traurig’s Houston Shareholder Shira R. Yoshor provided on-the-ground support locally and connected the team with the Chief of Neurosurgery at Texas Children’s Hospital. The doctor immediately arranged all the required appointments Max required; appointments that ordinarily would take months to secure. On March 26, the results of Max’s evaluation reported an unhealed skull fracture, TBI, and that his recovery was being impaired by his current living conditions. The report required a course of treatment that could not be provided in detention and cautioned that Max’s condition would be exacerbated with air travel.

Greenberg Traurig quickly provided the evaluations to the government, and on March 28, ICE released the family. Mrs. V, Max, and the baby boarded an Amtrak train the next morning, and are now back in Los Angeles. Nearby specialists have already committed to care for Max’s medical needs.

“This case demonstrates the importance of aggressively fighting back against unjust and inhumane actions by ICE,” said Sarah Gillman, Co-Legal Director at RDN. “Thanks to the swift actions of the legal team, Max and his family's rights have been vindicated.”

About Greenberg Traurig’s Pro Bono Program: Greenberg Traurig lawyers across the firm provide pro bono legal services to the indigent and working poor, as well as to numerous civic and charitable organizations dedicated to assisting them. The firm focuses its resources on specialized and interrelated issues including civil rights and affirmative action, anti-human trafficking, family law matters, criminal appeals, immigration and political asylum, housing, and homelessness.

About Greenberg Traurig, LLP: Greenberg Traurig, LLP (GT) has approximately 2,100 attorneys in 41 locations in the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. GT has been recognized for its philanthropic giving, diversity, and innovation, and is consistently among the largest firms in the U.S. on the Law360 400 and among the Top 20 on the Am Law Global 100. Web: http://www.gtlaw.com Twitter: @GT_Law.

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Lourdes Brezo Martinez
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