Updated 4:37 pm, Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) Immigrant advocates on Wednesday called on Orange County probation officials to stop referring youth offenders to federal immigration authorities, saying the practice violates the children's rights, and weakens ties between law enforcement and immigrant communities.

The call came after law students from the University of California, Irvine's immigrant rights clinic released a report saying Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued nearly 700 detainer requests for minors in California between October 2009 and February 2013, and youth in Orange County facilities accounted for more than 40 percent of them.

The law students said referring minors to immigration authorities violates state confidentiality law and hinders rehabilitation efforts by reducing parental cooperation with probation authorities. Children may be placed in federal custody for long periods of time and far from home, the report said.

"These youth sit there for weeks or months wondering when they'll be released, when they'll be able to see family," said Victoria Anderson, one of the report's authors.

The report noted, however, that referrals in Orange County have dropped significantly since probation officials changed their referral policy in 2012.

The policy states that the department will contact immigration officials if the minor presents a public safety risk or doing so serves the child's best interests.

Ed Harrison, a spokesman for Orange County Probation, said the department will consult with its lawyers regarding confidentiality issues.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the agency generally only sends cases involving minors with violent criminal histories to the immigration courts. Between the 2008 and 2012 fiscal years, the agency deported 43 youth offenders from Southern California.