On Tuesday, a United States District Court judge ruled that facility conditions and procedures in place at family detention centers at the border violate a 20-year-old court settlement that guarantees the rights of immigrant children.
Based in Los Angeles, Judge Dolly Gee called for the Trump Administration to address the “deplorable and unsanitary conditions” faced by undocumented immigrant minors, including those traveling with an adult family member, locked up in three privately run family detention centers near the border.
The 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement set national standards regarding the detention, release, and treatment of all undocumented children in federal custody, including a provision that detained minors be placed “in the least restrictive setting appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs.” Historically, the least restrictive setting is considered to be a non-secure facility licensed to care for children. The settlement also requires that juveniles be released from custody without unnecessary delay to a parent, legal guardian, adult relative or an individual designated by the parent.
According to many human rights advocates and immigrants, the government’s treatment of migrant children in custody at U.S. family centers has yet to meet Flores standards, an opinion that the Gee ruling seems to support.
Testimony from plaintiffs in the court document describes detainment conditions where children were not able to bathe or brush their teeth. Despite Flores stipulations that food provided “must be in edible condition (not frozen, expired, or spoiled),” one plaintiff, Karina V., described how “she and her three-year-old were offered a ‘sandwich with frozen ham’ with ‘a kind of ice under the bread’ as the first meal,” in court records.
Other detainees described how 50 people in one room were required to use an open toilet with no seat.
Others detailed the freezing conditions, “There were no beds, pillows or blankets. I held [my 3-year-old daughter] tight, wrapping my arms around her to keep warm … Her hands started to turn colors, she was so cold.”
In addition to the substandard conditions, Gee’s ruling agreed with the prosecution that the government is still holding children too long and in non-licensed facilities – a direct violation of Flores’ definition of “least restrictive environment.”
To ensure future government compliance, the judge ordered the naming of a juvenile coordinator within 30 days to report directly to the court. If the government is found non-compliant after one year, the court may appoint an independent monitor.
Beth Werlin, executive director for the American Immigration Council, a main representative for the prosecution, said she is not sure if the Trump administration will follow through on the order.
“It remains to be seen how the government will respond and whether it will honor its commitments under the Flores settlement, but the order is a long-sought victory for the fair treatment of some of the most vulnerable among us, and we will continue to fight on their behalf,” Werlin said in an e-mailed statement to The Chronicle of Social Change.