Time Running Out for Feds to Decide How to Release Immigrant Children

An asylum-seeking boy from Central America runs down a hallway after arriving from an immigration detention center to a shelter in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge gave the Trump administration another week to come up with a set of protocols governing the release of immigrant children currently being detained in holding facilities across the country.

The government had asked for a two-week stay to ensure that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was able to safely transfer those children currently being detained.

The ruling relates to the 1997 Flores settlement, which bars the government from holding detained immigrant children longer than 20 days without a guardian. With Covid-19 still raging across the country, there is a grave concern the detention facilities could become viral hotspots at any time.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, a Barack Obama appointee, told attorneys for the administration they could file an ex parte application with the Ninth Circuit if they require additional time, but cautioned she did not believe their case met the threshold for such a stay.

“I will not deprive you of your right to request a stay formally. I’m familiar with the standard for a stay and I don’t believe you meet that standard. I expedited this matter because I think it’s an important issue. I’m reluctant to add any more time than necessary to implement the order,” Gee said.

Attorneys for the plaintiff class noted there’s a process for seeking a stay of an order and the government should respect that.

“The government has no one but itself to blame for the timing of this order, and the need the children have for proper placement without further delay,” said Carlos Holguin, attorney for the plaintiffs.

Holguin added that his clients have no objections to reasonable quarantine procedures where necessary to ensure the health of the class members, but they are concerned about foot-dragging and feel that two weeks is excessive.

Judge Gee emphasized the government should cease placing immigrant children in hotels by Sept. 11.

“I don’t see why diverting minors to licensed facilities presents any more danger than placing them in a hotel where members of the public can stay,” she said.

She added she will stay the order until Sept. 8. The order to stop the government from placing children in hotels will take effect a week later.

Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian said the government understands that position, but the challenge is that some parents have not requested their child be released separately, or that there is no suitable party to whom they can release a child.

Gee said she didn’t disagree, but that doesn’t help her or the minors whose parents might want them to be released. She said giving notice is an important first step, and she will require the defendants to implement their own protocols governing the children’s release.

“Right now, I don’t want to have theoretical arguments about what is and isn’t a good procedure. I think it would be better to address a real person who said they were not able to give consent,” Gee said.

She added she would ask the government to file what they think a protocol should look like and give both parties time to confer, but would not require it. She said it’s incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a procedure where they can receive these requests and deal with them in a fair and prompt way, but that she doesn’t want to micromanage their affairs by telling them how they should do it.

“What I don’t want to have occur is a repeat of something that happened several weeks or months ago where ICE employees started asking detainees about whether they wanted to be separated from their children,” Gee said. “I think class members and their guardians need to be informed what their rights are and if class members and their guardians wish to pursue an option they may.”

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