By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. government lawyers on Thursday urged a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought by a New York civil rights group over what it has called excessively long detention of immigrant children, arguing that the judge has no authority to review a federal agency's internal processes.
The lawsuit was filed in February by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which is seeking to represent New York children detained by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a federal agency with authority over children who entered the country illegally.
The case involves children who have been taken into secure facilities run by ORR, which the NYCLU described in its complaint as "like juvenile jails."
"The government is detaining dozens of children in its custody for unconscionable lengths of time," Paige Austin, a lawyer with the NYCLU, said at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Byars, representing the government, argued that Crotty should dismiss the case because it "asks the court to intrude on this internal decision" by ORR.
Under the administration of President Donald Trump, children have not been "promptly" reunited with loved ones in the United States while their immigration cases are pending, as required by federal law, the NYCLU said.
The group said a major reason for the delays is a policy instituted last year under which children cannot be released from these facilities until ORR director Scott Lloyd has personally signed off. NYCLU is seeking a court order ending that policy.
Byars also argued that the case was moot because the lead plaintiff, identified in court documents as L.V.M., had been reunited with his mother since the lawsuit was filed.
According to the lawsuit, L.V.M. was taken from his home on Long Island by U.S immigration authorities in July 2017 and detained, based on false reports that he was involved with the violent MS-13 gang, which Trump has repeatedly cited as a reason for the need for tougher border security.
The case comes as the Trump Administration has come under intensifying criticism for a separate policy of separating children from their parents after they cross into the United States.
Aadhithi Padmanabhan, another NYCLU lawyer, argued that the case should be certified as a class action on behalf of all children subject to the same policy.
Crotty repeatedly expressed skepticism of the government's position. "I don't understand how you can possibly justify what happened to L.V.M.," he said.
The judge did not issue any rulings at the hearing.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)