Judge Wants Monitor for Detained Immigrant Kids

A view of the tents that have been set up for the temporary shelter in Tornillo, Texas for immigrant children who have crossed the border, as seen from the Mexican side of the border. (Photo by Natalie Krebs/CNS)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge in Los Angeles said Friday that consistent problems at facilities housing undocumented children require an independent monitor to review potential violations of a settlement that sets standards for their detention.

U.S District Judge Dolly Gee said she intends to appoint a special monitor to give “impartial and unbiased” reports on conditions at facilities operated by both U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S Customs and Border Protection agencies, respectively.

The Flores settlement – which the Trump administration sought to roll back in a request last month to hold immigrant children for longer periods – set national standards for the detention, release and treatment of all undocumented children in federal custody.

The Justice Department asked Judge Gee to modify the settlement, arguing it limits limited their ability to both execute President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance executive order and reunite children with parents in detention while awaiting legal proceedings.

Gee denied the federal government’s efforts to dismantle key provisions of agreement July 9, saying it was “procedurally improper and wholly without merit.”

She also called the government’s claim that the Flores settlement caused a spike in border crossings is “unconvincing.”

“Any number of other factors could have caused the increase in illegal border crossings, including civil strife, economic degradation, and fear of death in the migrants’ home countries,” Gee wrote.

Peter Schey and Carlos Holguin, attorneys with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, appeared on behalf of a class of detained undocumented children on Friday and said they’ve encountered hundreds of potential violations of the Flores settlement during interviews with children.

Schey said children have complained about unsanitary conditions and of being detained for extended periods without clear explanations of their rights.

“I can’t be at all those places,” Gee said, referring to facilities where attorneys for detained children have pointed out problems. “I’ll need an independent monitor to give an objective viewpoint.”

Schey said he would agree to a special monitor but asked that the search be completed promptly, to which Gee replied that it would take “two weeks at the most.”

The attorney also asked Gee to consider ordering detention facility workers to read a script informing detainees of all their rights under the settlement.

Gee said she was “bound to the settlement” and that only the parties together could alter the agreement.

“I can’t just insert new procedural requirements,” Gee said.

Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian said the federal government “strongly disagrees” with the settlement violation claim. She said any settlement breaches should be presented before the court before a special monitor is appointed.

“I’ve already found a breach, if anyone bothers to read my orders,” Gee said.

A June 2017 order by Gee outlined incidents where facilities violated the settlement, including a July 2015 case where ICE detained children in “deplorable” conditions.

The order also appointed a juvenile coordinator to monitor compliance with the settlement in cases involving children placed in immigration proceedings and detained beyond 72 hours.

Gee said Friday that hundreds of declarations from detained migrant children provided a “fuller record” showing continued and persistent problems at facilities.

Fabian said she hadn’t read all the declarations. She requested an evidentiary hearing to review them and to take comment from the juvenile coordinator.

Gee gave both parties two weeks to meet and propose policies for the monitor to follow. The parties can propose one candidate for the position or nominate separate candidates. If an agreement is not met, or if their candidates are deemed unqualified, Gee said she would appoint someone.

The monitor would be limited to monitoring compliance in cases outlined in Gee’s June 2017 order.

“Unless they’re Superman or Superwoman, they can’t monitor the entire [nation],” Gee said, adding that no one would want the job if they were tasked with reviewing every facility.

Under the Flores settlement, migrant children must be released to relatives or other custodians or placed in facilities within five days or up to 20 days, according to the settlement, and facilities must be “the least restrictive setting appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs.”

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