Los Angeles, CA - Lawyers for detained Central American children today applauded a precedent decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco affirming important rights immigrant children in federal custody possess.
Under a 1997 class action settlement in Flores v. Barr, children are entitled to safe and appropriate placement during federal immigration custody, as well as a fair opportunity for release on bond or recognizance pending proceedings to determine whether they may remain in the United States. The settlement also obliges the Border Patrol to treat detained children "with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors" in the immediate aftermath of arrest.
Peter Schey, who argued that case before the Court of Appeals in July 2019, said of today's ruling: "Border Patrol detention of children may last for several days. Most of these children are fleeing violence, persecution and abuse in their home countries. Forcing them to endure sleep deprivation while in vastly overcrowded cells and cages, and failing to provide them with adequate food, water, blankets, and medical assessments, is unconscionable and places their health and lives at risk. Today's court of appeals decision will hopefully send a message to President Trump and his administration that children's lives and their health and safety matter. Common decency, not to mention federal law, require that detention facilities be safe and sanitary, especially given the particular vulnerability of minors."
In summary, in 2017 the district court in Los Angeles ruled that the government was violating the 1997 Flores Settlement by detaining minors in unsanitary and unsafe conditions at Border Patrol stations. These findings were based on evidence that minors in border patrol custody were held in conditions that deprived them of sleep and did not provide adequate access to food, clean water, and basic hygiene items. The district court further found that although the Agreement "makes no mention of the words 'soap,' 'towels,' 'showers,' 'dry clothing,' or 'toothbrushes,'" these hygiene products fall within the rubric of the Agreement's language requiring 'safe and sanitary' conditions. The Government appealed arguing that the lower court had improperly "modified" the terms of agreement. In today's decision, the Court of Appeals "emphatically disagreed" with the Government's position. Its key language is as follows:
The district court's interpretation of the Agreement is consistent with the ordinary meaning of the language of paragraph 12A ... The court found, among other things, that minors (1) were "not receiving hot, edible, or a sufficient number of meals during a given day," (2) "had no adequate access to clean drinking water," (3) experienced "unsanitary conditions with respect to the holding cells and bathroom facilities," (4) lacked "access to clean bedding, and access to hygiene products (i.e., toothbrushes, soap, towels)," and (5) endured "sleep deprivation" as a result of "cold temperatures, overcrowding, lack of proper bedding (i.e., blankets, mats), [and] constant lighting." After so finding, the district court concluded that these conditions fall short of paragraph 12A's requirement that facilities be "safe and sanitary," especially given "the particular vulnerability of minors." Those determinations reflect a commonsense understanding of what the quoted language requires. Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep-deprived are without doubt essential to the children's safety.The district court properly construed the Agreement as requiring such conditions rather than allowing the government to decide whether to provide them.
The Court of Appeals ruling is available at this link: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2019/08/15/17-56297.pdf To volunteer with detention site inspections or to make a donation to help fight the Trump administration's assault on immigrant children, please visit www.reunify.org.