CLASP Builds on Public Interest Law Roots Through Amicus Advocacy for Immigrants

By Madison Allen

While CLASP was founded in 1969 as an organization dedicated to public interest law, we don’t litigate anymore. Today, we’re an advocacy organization – but we’re seeing a major demand to partner with litigators. Recent threats from the Trump Administration and partnerships with legal advocacy organizations allow us to build on these roots and support litigation efforts with amicus curie – “friend of the court” – briefs, which allow outside organizations to offer facts, analysis, and a different perspective than the briefing parties.

Recently, CLASP helped lead amicus briefs in three cases challenging the Trump Administration’s relentless attacks on immigrant families.

Detained Immigrant Children

The 1997 Flores v. Reno court agreement set nationwide policy for the detention and treatment of minors in immigration custody. It requires the government to release children without unnecessary delay and compels immigration officials to give detained minors a certain quality of life, including food, drinking water, toilets, and medical assistance. After the Trump Administration finalized regulations overturning protections for migrant children, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to enforce the Flores agreement. To stop the rule before it could be implemented, CLASP mobilized more than 20 children’s organizations and partnered with Arent Fox LLP on an amicus brief. The brief argued the regulation was inappropriate, ineffective, immoral, and at great odds with decades of research on child wellbeing. On September 27, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued a permanent injunction against the new regulations, keeping the Flores agreement intact and in force. The court cited CLASP’s amicus brief in its finding that “DHS’s New Regulations on the parole of class members, the definition of licensed facilities, and the definition of non-secure are irreconcilable with […] the Flores Agreement.”

Public Charge

CLASP partnered with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and more than 400 organizational partners on the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) campaign—a massive and coordinated effort to derail the administration’s attempts to change the “public charge” rule. In abandoning decades of precedent, the rule attempts to create an income test for immigrants seeking permanent resident status. It also directly targets access to basic needs programs, making immigrant families afraid to seek health, nutrition, and housing assistance. During the late 2018 public comment period, the PIF campaign enlisted organizations from many sectors to oppose the rule. More than 260,000 organizations and people submitted public comments—the vast majority opposing the proposed rule change. Breaking the record for the most comments submitted about a Department of Homeland Security proposed regulation, this broad-based opposition helped delay the rule’s final publication and set the groundwork for litigation.

A final rule was published on August 14, 2019, and multiple lawsuits followed. With the assistance of Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP, CLASP partnered with the National Housing Law Project, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), and more than 20 other groups to file an amicus brief in several cases. The brief argues that the public charge rule will cause immigrants to forgo crucial health, housing, and nutrition benefits that help families and communities thrive. Plaintiffs filed nine cases across five jurisdictions and, as of October 14, federal judges have issued five preliminary injunctions blocking implementation of the rule. The judges mentioned the ample evidence and research cited in the comments, the failure of the administration to consider those comments, as well as the extreme overreach of the proposal and its apparent violation of Congressional intent. The New York judge called the rule a “policy of exclusion in search of a justification.”


The Trump Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy is endangering the mental and physical health of hundreds of thousands of children—mostly U.S. citizens—whose parents are DACA recipients. CLASP has fought this decision through testimony, federal advocacy, and research. Most recently, CLASP raised our concerns in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court. With support from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Persyn Law & Policy, CLASP joined the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, American Academy of Pediatrics,) and nearly three dozen other organizations and experts on an amicus brief detailing how the rescission of DACA might impact the children of DACA recipients. The brief explains how the policy will trigger short- and long-term health impacts in DACA recipients’ children during their critically important developmental years.

Fifty years after CLASP’s founding, we remain committed to fighting for justice. When policy advocacy isn’t enough to stop harmful policies, we’ll support our colleagues and the brave plaintiffs willing to challenge these threats in court. As an organization founded by public interest attorneys, we are proud to remain an ally to our litigation partners and a friend of the court.