Administration Should Abandon Policy of Detaining Children and Parents Following Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling
New York City—Human Rights First today renewed its calls on the Obama Administration to abandon its policy of detaining parents and children following a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that supports a lower court’s ruling that children should not be detained in unlicensed and secure detention centers. Today’s ruling upholds a 2015 ruling that the government’s detention policy violated the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement (Flores), which governs the standards for the detention, release, and treatment of minors in immigration custody. Human Rights First urges the Obama Administration not to appeal today’s decision.
“This ruling confirms what we have known for a long time: that detention facilities are no place for children. The government is not complying with its obligations under Flores, and should immediately end this inhumane and unnecessary practice,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne.
Today’s decision finds that family detention centers, which operate under Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Family Residential Standards, do not comply with the Flores agreement. Human Rights First notes that while today’s decision finds that the Flores settlement does not provide release rights to parents, international legal standards dictate that asylum seekers should not be detained except in exceptional circumstances.
Last year, California District Court Judge Dolly Gee found that today’s family detention centers fail to meet minimum standards outlined in the Flores agreement, and that the 1997 settlement applies to all children in immigration custody, including those accompanied by parents. In cases where the child cannot immediately be released, the government may only hold the child in the “least restrictive setting,” typically a non-secure facility licensed by a state child welfare agency to care for dependent children. Judge Gee also found that government authorities had “wholly failed” to meet the minimum standards of “safe and sanitary” conditions in temporary detention facilities along the southwest border.
Government lawyers have argued that Flores does not apply to children accompanied by parents or legal guardians. The Obama Administration also sought to modify the Flores agreement to enable the Department of Homeland Security to detain families in unlicensed detention facilities. Both of these arguments were rejected by the Ninth Circuit.
As the government wages its legal battle, families continue to be subjected to detention, sometimes for months or upwards of a year. At the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania—one of three family detention centers in the country—the majority of families held there have been confined for over five months.
A growing body of medical literature has found that detention is harmful to children’s health. Community-based alternatives to detention have been proven to support appearance at hearings, while also providing families with social support, when needed. Legal counsel is also key to ensuring due process and compliance with immigration proceedings. When mothers and children were represented by counsel, they appeared for hearings 98 percent of the time.
A broad array of voices have called on the administration to end the practice of detaining families, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, Catholic and Lutheran Bishops, and 178 Members of Congress and 35 Senators, and many groups have similarly called for the administration to immediately end deportation raids against families.
For more information or to speak with Byrne, contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319