Posted: Friday, July 27, 2018 – 4:12 PM
(CNS) – A Los Angeles federal judge overseeing a consent decree regulating the detention of immigrant children said Friday she now requires an independent monitor to provide “unbiased” reports on how detainees are being treated within the facilities.
U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee said there continues to be “persistent problems” with the way the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement is handling child migrants in custody.
Earlier this month, Gee rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to modify the 1997 Flores agreement by allowing longer-term detention of families and housing them in facilities that are not licensed by state agencies.
At a hearing in downtown Los Angeles, civil rights attorneys argued that ORR has adopted policies and practices that prolong the detention of immigrant children under conditions that violate the settlement agreement.
Among the alleged violations is a system in which the agency needlessly “steps up” migrant youth from shelters to medium-secure, secure and psychiatric facilities without procedural fairness or transparency. Plaintiffs also contend that officials at ORR-contracted facilities routinely administer children psychotropic drugs without legal authorization.
Sarah B. Fabian, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney, countered that the government “strongly disagrees” with such allegations and that the “safety of children” and “continuity of care” are priorities.
Peter Schey, an attorney with the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, told the judge that declarations attest to unsafe and unsanitary conditions at U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities, including inadequate access to clean drinking water, inadequate hygiene in terms of bathrooms, soap, towels and toothbrushes, and inadequate sleeping conditions.
Gee ordered attorneys for both sides to meet in the next two weeks and agree on the appointment of a special monitor to provide her with “realistic, unbiased reports of what’s happening” within the custodial facilities. The judge added that if the lawyers cannot agree on a monitor, she would submit one.
Fabian opposed the appointment.
“This needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Gee said.
Administration officials maintain that the family separation policy implemented by President Donald Trump is humane. The DOJ argued in court papers that proposed changes to the decades-old Flores settlement were “justified by several material changes in circumstances — chief among them the ongoing and worsening influx of families unlawfully entering the United States at the southwest border.”
Three years ago, the Obama administration asked for modifications to the settlement in order to hold families in detention facilities for extended periods, but Gee also rejected that request.
The government’s latest effort came one day after Trump’s executive order purported to halt the separation of children from undocumented immigrant adults under his “zero tolerance’ policy cracking down on illegal border crossings.
In rejecting the government’s request, Gee wrote that the Trump administration sought to “hold minors in indefinite detention in unlicensed facilities, which would constitute a fundamental and material breach of the parties’ agreement,” but she further explained that “all parties admit that these parents may also affirmatively waive their children’s rights to prompt release and placement in state-licensed facilities.”