Immigration and Latino activists applauded a federal judge’s ruling ordering the Obama administration to promptly release children who are detained at family detention centers and called on the administration to comply with the order.
“As we have repeatedly stated, detention centers are no place for children,” stated Kica Matos, spokeswoman for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. “We call on the Obama administration to expeditiously release migrant children and close the family centers.”
Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, also urged the federal government “to fully comply with Judge Gee’s order and end the practice of family detention completely and replace it with more humane and less expensive alternatives to detention such as case management with legal services.”
Judge Dolly Gee ordered the administration to release children “without unnecessary delay” as well as their parents if they do not pose a flight risk or threat to national security. In the ruling, released Friday evening, she gave the administration until October 23 to comply with her order.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that it will review Gee’s decision and “consider available options with the Department of Justice.”
DHS also stated: “While we continue to disagree with the court's ultimate conclusion, we note that the court has clarified its original order to permit the government to process families apprehended at the border at family residential facilities consistent with congressionally provided authority.”
The ruling comes a month after DHS asked Gee to reconsider allowing it to continue detaining children and parents who were apprehended at the border. It noted that the agency was already speeding up the release of detained families. It also argued that releasing children and parents “could heighten the risk of another surge in illegal migration across our Southwest border by Central American families.”
But Gee rejected the argument of another possible surge in illegal migration in her ruling on Friday, saying: “This statement is speculative at best, and, at worse, fear-mongering.”
Gee also reiterated that the Obama administration had violated a 1997 settlement, known as Flores, that set national policy regarding the treatment of children who are detained by immigration authorities. She also condemned the “deplorable” conditions of the temporary holding cells where children are detained and said the facilities failed to meet even the most basic “safe and sanitary” standards set forth by the 1997 settlement.
“There is no denying that the government has breached the Flores settlement agreement,” Victor Nieblas Pradis, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in a statement. “The status quo is unacceptable, and the government must take immediate and dramatic steps to end family detention.”
Immigration and Latino activists have raised concerns about how the administration responded to the unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors and families who arrived on the border in 2014 seeking refuge in the U.S. That year, Border Patrol apprehended 68,541 unaccompanied minors and 68,445 families.
Most came from Central America, trying to escape violence and persecution in their home countries. Though many were deported, hundreds were detained in an effort by the Obama administration to deter more migrants from coming to the U.S.
Several Republican presidential candidates have pointed to the surge of children and parents who came from Central American as a sign that the border is not secure. This comes at a time when immigration is out front and center in the presidential primary.