The court system has once again struck a victory for immigrant rights. Last week, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the U.S. government is in violation of a 1997 settlement agreement because the government is detaining undocumented foreign national children in poor conditions. The Judge indicated that the court may soon be issuing an order to federal immigration officials to release the undocumented children and their parents.
The 1997 Settlement Agreement
In her ruling, Judge Gee states that the government’s treatment of undocumented foreign national children is violating a 1997 agreement that is referred to as the Flores agreement. The Flores settlement came about after a class action lawsuit was filed against the U.S. federal government on behalf of detained foreign national children. Per the settlement, which was also decided in California, if a child will be detained the child must be detained in the least restrictive manner and setting available that takes into account his or her age and special needs. The agreement also mandates that children must be released from immigration custody and to a legal guardian without unnecessary or prolonged delay. Children must also not be detained with a non-relative adult for longer than 24 hours. Many of the provisions of the Flores agreement have since been codified into U.S. law.
The Detainees’ Conditions
The detained children and their parents have testified that they were kept in overcrowded rooms where some children were forced to sleep standing up or to forgo sleep altogether. Additionally, many children who were not accompanied by their parents were forced to stay in these close quarters with adults who were not relatives of the children, thereby increasing the children’s exposure and risk for assault and abuse.
The U.S. Government’s Response to the Court Ruling
Judge Gee’s ruling followed the recent surge in undocumented foreign national children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Although these crossings have decreased in the last year, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that the numbers are still high. While the current administration is usually a proponent of immigrant rights, in the context of this case the DHS disagrees with the court ruling and argues that releasing the children will only encourage others to make the dangerous journey across the border.
What Will Happen Next
Judge Gee instructed the government to provide the court with reasons why it should not issue the order to release the foreign national children and their parents. If the government does not provide satisfactory arguments, Judge Gee indicated she would be willing to implement the ruling within three months.
The California District Court Judge’s decision is certainly a step in the right direction in ensuring the humane treatment of undocumented foreign national children who cross the U.S. border. These children represent one of the most vulnerable demographics in the immigration debate, and all too often they are forgotten. Continue to check back with our blog for the most up to date news on this lawsuit and all other immigration-related issues.
More Blog Posts
The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Policy Memo, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012