A U.S. District Court judge in Southern California ruled on Friday that illegal immigrants under the age of 18 cannot be held at family detention facilities for more than 72 hours. In her decision, Judge Dolly Gee gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until October 23 to comply with the parameters established in a 1997 legal settlement known as the Flores Agreement.
Approximately 1400 parents and children are currently being held at three detention centers (two in Texas, one in Pennsylvania), after more than 68,000 people were apprehended at the U.S. – Mexico border in fiscal year 2014. Most were refugees from Central America who arrived in the country last summer.
Judge Gee described conditions at the detention facilities as “deplorable” and stated that they “failed to meet even the minimal standard” of being “safe and sanitary”.
The case, brought by the Center of Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles, will certainly be appealed by DHS and could go as far as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Peter Schey, president of the Center, said after Friday’s ruling that DHS’ immigrant detention policy “has caused thousands of innocent children to needlessly suffer severe psychological and often physical harm.”
He went on to applaud Judge Gee’s decision, saying that it would protect immigrant minors “from lengthy and entirely senseless detention . . . in unsafe adult lock-down facilities run by private corporations raking in millions of dollars in profits.”
Both facilities in Texas are managed by private companies through a government contract.
The Department of Justice, however, has argued that releasing immigrants detained at the southern border last year will encourage more refugees from Central and South American to seek asylum in the United States.
Judge Gee denied the government’s request for reconsideration of the case based on that claim, amounting it to “fear-mongering.”
Despite the chance of another wave of immigration from some of the quasi-lawless countries south of the U.S. border, 100 Congressional Democrats recently called on the Obama Administration to stop detaining immigrant children who enter the country illegally, citing ethical concerns.
[Los Angeles Times] [immigrantchildren.org] [centerforhumanrights.org] [Photo courtesy Thomas Reuters]