In a major victory for human rights, a federal court in California has ruled that the Obama administration must release thousands of women and children captured last year after fleeing violence and poverty in Mexico and Central America and strongly criticized the administration’s treatment of those detained.
A federal judge in California has ruled that the Obama administration’s detention of children and their mothers who were caught crossing the border illegally is a serious violation of a longstanding court settlement, and that the families should be released as quickly as possible.
In a decision late Friday roundly rejecting the administration’s arguments for holding the families, Judge Dolly M. Gee of Federal District Court for the Central District of California found that two detention centers in Texas that the administration opened last summer fail to meet minimum legal requirements of the 1997 settlement for facilities housing children.
Judge Gee also found that migrant children had been held in “widespread deplorable conditions” in Border Patrol stations after they were first caught, and she said the authorities had “wholly failed” to provide the “safe and sanitary” conditions required for children even in temporary cells.
The opinion was a significant legal blow to detention policies ordered by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in response to an influx of children and parents, mostly from Central America, across the border in South Texas last summer. In her 25-page ruling, Judge Gee gave a withering critique of the administration’s positions, declaring them “unpersuasive” and “dubious” and saying officials had ignored “unambiguous” terms of the settlement.
“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, said Friday. “A policy that just targets mothers with children is not rational and it’s inhumane.”…
Initially, Homeland Security officials said they were detaining the families to send a message to others in Central America to deter them from coming to the United States illegally. In February, a federal court in Washington, D.C., ruled that strategy unconstitutional. Officials stopped invoking deterrence as a factor in deciding whether to release mothers and children as they seek asylum in the United States.
But many women and children remained stalled behind bleak walls and fences month after month with no end in sight. Mothers became severely depressed or anxious, and their distress echoed in their children, who became worried and sickly.
Under the Flores settlement, officials were required to try first to release a child to a parent, legal guardian or close relative. Judge Gee concluded that if the mother was also detained, Homeland Security officials should release her with the child, as long as she did not present a flight or security risk. She gave the administration one week to devise a plan to release children and mothers “without unnecessary delay.”
And I hope they follow it rather than appeal the ruling. This inhumane treatment of people who came here only seeking a life free from violence and oppression is a clear violation of their human rights and those principles we love to declare loudly but often care little about actually putting into practice.