Citing a 1997 court settlement on the detention of children, late last week U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that hundreds of mothers and children currently held in family detention facilities must be released by the federal government.
From the AP:
“The decision Friday by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California is a victory for the immigrant rights lawyers who brought the case, but its immediate implications for detainees were not yet clear. The ruling upholds a tentative decision Gee made in April, and comes a week after the two sides told her that they failed to reach a new settlement agreement as she’d asked for.”
In a 25-page ruling, Judge Gee blasted federal immigration officials for “widespread and deplorable conditions in the holding cells of Border Patrol stations.”
“In addition, she wrote that federal officials ‘failed to meet even the minimal standard’ of ‘safe and sanitary’ conditions at temporary holding cells,” said the Los Angeles Times.
According to the Times, federal immigration authorities are holding an estimated 1,700 women and children — families who have fled to the United States from violence in Central America — at three detention facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania.
However, the release of detained mothers and children is not immediately effective: “The judge on Friday gave the government 90 days to show why the mothers and children should remain in detention.”
Judge Gee’s decision was based on the 18-year-old settlement in a hard-fought class action lawsuit, known as Flores, that has governed the treatment of minors apprehended at the border who are unaccompanied — not with a parent. Judge Gee found that the Flores settlement, which has been carried out with little dispute from the federal authorities, also applies to children caught with their parents.
The judge also found that the family detention centers in Texas were a “material breach” of provisions requiring that minors be placed in facilities that are not secured like prisons and are licensed to take care of children. The detention centers are secure facilities run by private prison contractors.
The ruling is yet another blow to the Administration following severe criticism from both members of Congress and immigrant rights advocates. Advocates have called on the federal officials to shut detention facilities down in favor of more humane treatment for women and their children.
In June, a delegation of Democratic House members visited two detention facilities in Texas, including one facility in Karnes where a detained mother attempted suicide.
[House members] said they were asked to hand over their cell phones and cameras for the visit to the detention centers, but refused. One member took video inside the Dilley facility — called the South Texas Family Residential Center — of women and children chanting outside in a plea for help. They said they met with women who said they had been yelled at and demeaned by guards, and that children who were ill were being told to just drink more water.
“They are holding children in unsafe facilities. It’s that simple,” said one of the attorneys who brought forth the lawsuit. “It’s intolerable, it’s inhumane, and it needs to end, and end sooner rather than later.”
Late this afternoon, Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Luis Gutiérrez, and Zoe Lofgren issued a response to Judge Gee’s decision to release detained mothers and children fleeing violence.
All three were part of the House delegation that visited family detention facilities in Texas:
Friday’s ruling confirms that the U.S. Government is wrong to hold vulnerable women and children – regardless of their immigration status – in secure, jail-like facilities. Furthermore, Judge Gee rejected the Administration’s defense that family detention is necessary to deter future migration. We wholeheartedly agree with – and applaud – this decision.
“During our recent visit to the Karnes and Dilley detention facilities in Texas, we spoke to incarcerated mothers and children who told us they endured insufficient medical care, spoiled food, and abusive treatment while in detention. We also spoke to child welfare experts who testified to the serious developmental damage that can occur when children are held in such deplorable settings – even for as little as a few weeks.
“The Department of Homeland Security should comply with the Court’s ruling by promptly releasing the families currently in custody and beginning the process of shutting down the family detention centers. It is time for the Administration to finally put an end to this appalling and shameful practice of detaining mothers and children.”
Additionally, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Linda Sánchez released a statement on the ruling, writing the decision confirmed “what we’ve known for a long time now” about family detention facilities:
“The federal ruling by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee confirms what we’ve known for a long time now: family detention centers should be closed. It is unconscionable that we are imprisoning mothers and children who pose no risk to our national security. House Democrats and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have been calling for the closure of these centers and we applaud Judge Dolly Gee’s ruling. We hope this ruling will move us closer to finally stopping this inhumane treatment of immigrant families.”