Think Immigration: Judge Dolly Gee Upholds Necessary Protections of Migrant Children in Recent Court Ruling

4/11/24 AILA Doc. No. 24041173. Asylum, Unaccompanied Children

Children are owed a different standard of care. Whether in healthcare, the court system, and even in immigration, it is well-established that children must be handled with a different, often higher, standard of care compared to adults. This should not be controversial. However sometimes, it seems we need to be reminded.

In 1997, the Flores v. Reno court settlement, known simply as the “Flores Settlement” set nationwide policy regarding the detention and treatment of minors in immigration custody. The suit was brought on behalf of migrant children who were routinely being held by the U. S. government in unsafe, unsanitary conditions. The Flores Settlement provided that the U.S. government must ensure children are held for the shortest duration possible (not exceeding 20 days) under minimum standard of care conditions, including the provision of food, clean drinking water, toilets, temperature-controlled environments and medical care in emergencies.

Fast forward a few years and the Flores Settlement needed to be invoked during the Obama Administration as a result of its mass family detention policy. AILA and its members joined other volunteers and advocates in documenting the mistreatment of children in family detention facilities and assisted with a complaint to the federal courts arguing that the Flores Settlement was not being followed as agreed to and that children were being harmed.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee agreed and called on the government to comply.

During the Trump Administration, advocates again had to push the government to follow the rules of the Flores Settlement, when it attempted to circumvent its obligations. Again, Judge Gee agreed, holding DHS under then-President Trump to account.

Most recently, in response to another suit brought on behalf of newly arrived children being held in “Open Air Detention Sites” awaiting processing by border patrol agents, Judge Gee once again upheld the long-standing protections of the Flores Settlement. In the ruling, Judge Gee concluded that while migrant children at the outdoor staging areas in Southern California have not been formally processed yet, they are still in the legal custody of the United States since their movement is controlled by Border Patrol agents. Therefore, the government is still bound to the same obligations under the Flores Settlement to provide safe and sanitary facilities to these children.

As an immigration attorney working with survivors of violence, abuse, trafficking and torture, I routinely encounter minors who have endured so many instances of trauma and mistreatment and are seeking safety and protection in the United States. It is unconscionable that our own government allows these children to be treated inhumanely under their watch. In any other setting, the conditions these children face would be unacceptable, even for adults. It is unfortunate that, time and again, we need a judge to remind the government that when we deal with children, we owe them a certain standard of care.

I am glad Judge Gee has been consistently doing just that through the years and grateful that my fellow advocates have been standing up on behalf of these children.

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