Motion to Enforce Filed in Flores Case, Government Urged to Abandon Family Detention Policy
New York City—Human Rights First urged the Obama Administration to abandon its policy of detaining families in light of a new motion to enforce filed against the government today. The motion provides new evidence of the government’s continued violations of the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which governs the standards for the detention, release, and treatment of minors in immigration custody. Two Human Rights First attorneys provided declarations in support of today’s motion.
“Despite the fact that a federal court has already ruled that the policy of detaining women and children violates the basic human rights of children, the administration has stuck by this misguided approach,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne.
Today’s motion seeks an order from the California District Court requiring the government to comply with that court’s August 2015 order, which found the government in violation of Flores, and appointed a special monitor to oversee the government’s remedial efforts. Last year, California District Court Judge Dolly Gee found that today’s 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. She also found that, since Flores clearly prefers release to a parent over another relative or a community sponsor, parents and children should be released from custody together. 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 child welfare organization to care for dependent children. Judge Gee also found that government authorities had “wholly failed” to meet the minimal 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. It also sought to modify the Flores agreement to enable the Department of Homeland Security to detain families in unlicensed detention facilities.
As at 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 nearly nine 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 supports, 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.
“The Obama Administration already has effective and humane tools to ensure that individuals awaiting asylum or immigration hearings appear in court,” noted Byrne. “There is no need to resort to detention tactics that betray our American ideals and long history of protecting the persecuted.”