A federal judge rejected “fear-mongering” over “illegal immigration” by President Barack Obama’s administration and ordered the government to implement changes to ensure detained mothers and children are released within the next two months.
On August 6, the Justice Department requested the United States District Court of the Central District of California reconsider an order issued in July. The order found the government violated provisions of a legal agreement known as the “Flores agreement,” in force since 1997. The agreement is supposed to protect the rights of immigrant children, and the government has run afoul of the agreement by keeping migrant children, both accompanied and unaccompanied by guardians, in detention centers.
The government maintained the “proposed remedies could heighten the risk of another surge in illegal migration across our Southwest border by Central American families, including by incentivizing adults to bring children with them on their dangerous journey as a means to avoid detention and gain access to the interior of the United States.”
Judge Dolly M. Gee saw through attorneys’ baseless argument that the court’s order would impair the government’s ability to detain and expedite removal of undocumented immigrants as Congress intended.
The statement about risking “another surge in illegal migration” is “speculative at best, and, at worse, fear-mongering,” the judge declared. She noted the government has provided no “credible reason” why it cannot deal with cases of illegal migration and simultaneously comply with the Flores agreement by not holding children for “prolonged periods in secure, unlicensed facilities.”
However, the judge granted the government a bit of leeway by accepting a 20-day policy, which Homeland Security has in place to determine whether migrants have a “credible fear” of persecution or violence if they are returned to their home country.
The Flores agreement mandates the placement of children with “an available adult or in a non-secure licensed facility upon apprehension within five days.” The judge intrepreted the government’s claims as a suggestion the children are part of an influx, which means the government may take additional time to screen families without technically breaching the agreement.Nevertheless, the judge stated the government “routinely failed to proceed as expeditiously as possible to place accompanied minors, and in some instances, may still be unnecessarily dragging their feet now.”
For what it’s worth, the judge actually found the government had brought an improper motion to reconsider the court’s order. The government’s own motion so grossly mischaracterized what the Obama administration was being ordered to do that the judge decided to clarify the situation by responding to the government’s arguments.
Judge Gee also insisted that the improper motion to reconsider mostly rehashed claims, which the court had previously rejected.
The order primarily applies to the 1,800-plus parents and children, who are in detention camps in Berks County, Pennsylvania, and Dilley and Karnes City, Texas.
As reported by McClatchy DC, “The lead attorney for the mothers, Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, said that the court’s ruling ‘will protect refugee children and their mothers from lengthy and entirely senseless detention.'”
Shey added, “[Homeland Security] Secretary Jeh Johnson should be thoroughly ashamed of his ‘anti-mother’ detention policy that over the past year has caused thousands of innocent children to needlessly suffer severe psychological and often physical harm.”
The court order was the product of a lawsuit [PDF] filed by attorneys for detained Central American families in February. It challenged a “no-release” policy adopted by Homeland Security for female-headed families. And lawyers also accused the government of improperly confining children in “prison-like settings that are not licensed to house children who are neither delinquent nor dangerous.”
“Though Border Patrol detention is relatively short, it can be extremely harmful for families,” said Clara Long, a researcher with the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch. “Families with children, including very young children, have told us they were kept for prolonged periods in very cold rooms, given inadequate or inappropriate food, and denied medical care while in Border Patrol custody. Many of these women and children are fleeing violence, persecution and abuse in their home countries. The Department of Homeland Security should ensure they are treated with dignity, in accordance with the law.”
The court decision can be found PDF]”>here.