California judge on Friday could sanction ICE for detaining migrant children during pandemic

Migrant Centers

FILE – Immigrants seeking asylum walk at the ICE South Texas Family Residential Center, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, in Dilley, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — A California judge on Friday could issue harsh sanctions against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not adhering to a court order to release detained migrant children who are at-risk for being held at family detention facilities in close quarters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California Judge Dolly Gee, who oversees the Flores Settlement Agreement — a 23-year-old class action lawsuit settlement that put restrictions on how long and under what conditions minors may be held in immigration detention facilities — could rule from the bench on Friday and issue broad reaching remedies to force the government into compliance after the agency failed to meet a July 27 court deadline that ordered the release of the children due to health risks from coronavirus, migrant advocates said Thursday.

On Aug. 7, Gee ruled the government has been in breach of the Flores Settlement and said she is inclined to impose a remedy. Friday’s hearing will be held at 11 a.m. PT in the U.S. District Court Central District of California Western Division.

In this Sept. 10, 2014, file photo, detained immigrant children line up in the cafeteria at the Karnes County Residential Center, a detention center for immigrant families, in Karnes City, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

In a call with media Thursday, representatives from the nonprofits RAICES (The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), Aldea: The People’s Justice Center, and Proyecto Dilley, which are part of a class-action lawsuit, said they submitted suggested remedies to the court at Gee’s request.

“The three legal service providers have asked Judge Gee to hold ICE in contempt and to consider remedies which will compel compliance with the Settlement and to ensure the protection of all children in the custody of the Government. We further agree with fellow Amici who called on the court to protect the children at the family detention centers and ensure that these detained families would not be forced to choose between separation or detention,” the groups said in a statement.

Their suggestions include requiring that ICE ensure that all children are detained in non-secure, licensed facilities that are “safe and sanitary” and that placements are made by Sept. 11. They also advocate increased ICE officer training, a reporting hotline for abuses, independent monitoring and information-sharing. Other suggestions include:

  • The government must make consistent efforts to release children. And may only continue to hold a child for prolonged detention if the child is a flight risk or a danger.
  • The government must provide and document all efforts to release a child and provide proof if that child is considered a flight risk or a danger.

“Over the past few months the government has given numerous excuses for its failure to comply with the Flores Settlement. It has chosen to blatantly ignore all orders issued under the Flores Settlement,” said Shay Fluharty, of Proyecto Dilley, which offers free legal counsel to migrants held at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. “they’re making a mockery of our judicial system.”

“We are waiting for tomorrow with bated breath,” said Stephanie Alvarez-Jones, an immigration lawyer in San Antonio who represents migrant families. “There’s a real feeling of desperation particularly in time of COVID for these families.”

Fluharty said that 90 children currently are detained in family detentions and 22 children, including a 3-year-old have been held for over a year; 45 children have been detained for over 300 days.

“We have children in detention for over a year. We are getting to the point where they are celebrating multiple birthdays in detention,” Alvarez-Jones said.

We have children in detention for over a year. We are getting to the point where they are celebrating multiple birthdays in detention.”

Immigration lawyer Stephanie Alvarez-Jones
Immigrants seeking asylum hold hands as they walk across the ICE South Texas Family Residential Center, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, in Dilley, Texas. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hosted a media tour of the center that houses families who are pending disposition of their immigration cases.(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Gee has for years been outspoken against federal government detention of migrant children and in 2018 and 2020 declared ICE was not in compliance with the Flores Agreement, which stated children should not be detained more than 20 days.

Two of the three family detention facilities are located in Texas. Aside from the Dilley facility, which is southwest of San Antonio, ICE also holds families at the Karnes County Family Residential Center, located southeast of San Antonio, and at the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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