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article imageJudge orders U.S. to free detained immigrant children and mothers

By Caroline Leopold     Jul 26, 2015 in Politics
A federal judge in California has ruled that the Obama administration is in serious violation of a court agreement by detaining women and children who cross the border illegally from Mexico.
Judge Dolly M. Gee ruled Friday that two detention centers in Texas, which the Obama administration opened last summer, fail to meet minimum legal requirements of prior settlement regarding standards for facilities that house children. The administration was ordered to present a plan for their timely release in two weeks, according to the ruling.
Judge Gee ruled that these children had been living in “deplorable conditions” in Border Patrol stations and that authorities had “wholly failed” to provide “safe and sanitary” conditions required for children, according to the New York Times.
The judge's ruling is blow to an effort by the Obama administration and Homeland Security to halt the influx of immigrants crossing into the United States from Central America and Mexico
Officials cited a flow of immigrants, including mothers and children, crossing into Texas last summer as the reason DHS built the facilities.
The administration has struggled with a string of setbacks in the federal courts for its immigration policies, including decisions that halted President Obama’s programs to give protection from deportation and work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and are reviewing it in consultation with the Department of Justice,” said Marsha Catron, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said to the New York Times. She said officials would comply with the judge's order to present a plan by August 3 for carrying out the ruling.
The judge's decision was based on the 18-year-old settlement in a class-action lawsuit, known as Flores vs Meese, which ruled how unaccompanied minors should be treated when caught at the border. Judge Gee found that the Flores settlement, which is not disputed by federal authorities, also applies to children apprehended with their parents.
Under Flores, minors should be put in facilities that do not resemble secured prisons and are licensed to care for children. The current detention centers are secured like prisons and run by private prison contractors.
The ruling was around a lawsuit filed by lawyers, Peter Schey and Carlos Holguin, at the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles. They sued after months of negotiations between them and the Justice Department produced no agreement on how to improve the detention centers.
“I think this spells the beginning of the end for the Obama administration’s immigrant family detention policy,” Mr. Schey, the president of the human rights center told the New York Times. “A policy that just targets mothers with children is not rational and it’s inhumane.”
“We’re hopeful this decision will be among the final straws ending a misguided, mindless policy of incarcerating women and children in violation of the Flores settlement, international law and all of what most of us hold decent,” Holguin said to the Los Angeles Times.
Immigrant advocates, religious leaders and Latino groups praised the decision after having pushed the administration to close the detention centers that are confining families.
“This decision confirms that the mass detention of refugee children and their mothers violates U.S. law,” said Elora Mukherjee, a law professor at Columbia University has represented women at the Texas detention centers.
DHS opened detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas. Another small family center already operates in Berks County, About 1,700 women and children were held in the three centers, officials said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Many women and children were trapped behind walls with no end in sight. Reportedly mothers became severely depressed or anxious and their children became worried and sickly.
Judge Gee ordered that DHS release mothers with their children, as long as she did not present a flight or security risk.
For children who could not be released, they should be moved to nonsecure facilities run by agencies licensed for child care.
More about immigrant families, immigrant children ruling, Homeland Security, immigration and customs enforcement
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