A Private Security Company Is Detaining Migrant Children at Hotels

Click here to read the NY Times article entitled A Private Security Company Is Detaining Migrant Children at Hotels.

Published August 16, 2020

By Caitlin Dickerson

Under emergency coronavirus orders, the Trump administration is using hotels across the country to hold migrant children and families before expelling them.

The Trump administration has been using major hotel chains to detain children and families taken into custody at the border, creating a largely unregulated shadow system of detention and swift expulsions without the safeguards that are intended to protect the most vulnerable migrants.

Government data obtained by The New York Times, along with court documents, show that hotel detentions overseen by a private security company have ballooned in recent months under an aggressive border closure policy related to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 100,000 migrants, including children and families, have been summarily expelled from the country under the measure. But rather than deterring additional migration, the policy appears to have caused border crossings to surge, in part because it eliminates some of the legal consequences for repeat attempts at illegal crossings.

The increase in hotel detentions is likely to intensify scrutiny of the policy, which legal advocacy groups have already challenged in court, saying it places children in an opaque system with few protections and violates U.S. asylum laws by returning them to life-threatening situations in their home countries.

Children as young as a year old — often arriving at the border with no parents — are being put in hotels under the supervision of transportation workers who are not licensed to provide child care. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the children are being adequately cared for during the hotel stays and emphasize that their swift expulsion is necessary to protect the country from the spread of the coronavirus.

Federal authorities have resorted to using hotels during previous spikes in immigration and as staging areas for short periods of time ahead of traditional deportations; the conditions are in many ways better than the cold, concrete Border Patrol holdings cells where many migrants have been left to languish in the past.

But because the hotels exist outside the formal detention system, they are not subject to policies designed to prevent abuse in federal custody or those requiring that detainees be provided access to phones, healthy food, and medical and mental health care.

Parents and lawyers have no way of finding the children or monitoring their well-being while they are in custody. The existence of the hotel detentions came to light last month, but documents reviewed by The New York Times reveal the extent to which major chains are participating. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has detained at least 860 migrants at a Quality Suites in San Diego; Hampton Inns in Phoenix and in McAllen and El Paso, Texas; a Comfort Suites Hotel in Miami; a Best Western in Los Angeles; and an Econo Lodge in Seattle.

Though the data does not specify ages, the official who provided it, as well as several former immigration officials who recently left the Trump administration, said it was likely that most or all were either children traveling alone or with their parents, because single adult migrants tend to be housed in Border Patrol holding stations.

The administration’s pandemic-related border closure policy calls for migrants to be expelled from the country, rather than put into traditional, formal deportation proceedings. Parents often send their children to the American border alone because they are more likely to win asylum if they are not traveling with adults.

Under the new policy, most children are instead being put on planes and returned to their home countries, primarily in Central America, though some have been handed over to child welfare authorities in Mexico, leading parents into desperate efforts to track their children down.

Searching for the children has been made nearly impossible because they are not being assigned identification numbers that would normally allow families to track their locations in the highly regulated federal detention system.

Only rarely used in the past, the practice of expulsions has surged under the Trump administration’s coronavirus-related border ban. Unlike deportations, expulsions are meant to take place very soon after a migrant is encountered by immigration agents. But delays in securing flights necessary to return the increasing number of migrants now arriving at the border have led the administration to turn to MVM Inc., a private corporation known mostly as a transportation and security company, to detain migrant children and families.

Started in the late 1970s by three former Secret Service agents, MVM has grown substantially.

The company now has contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars with nearly all of the federal agencies involved in immigration enforcement. It has secured at least $1.9 billion in federal contracts since 2008.

“The reputation was, ‘You ask it, they do it,’” said Claire Trickler-McNulty, a former deputy assistant director of the office of detention planning and policy at ICE. “No task was too big for MVM.”

Before the pandemic hit, MVM was the primary company used to transport migrant families encountered at the border to family detention centers. Its security workers oversee the tent courts that were erected to process cases of asylum seekers who have been made to wait out their cases in Mexico. In 2018, when a federal judge ordered the reunification of families that had been separated by immigration authorities along the border, MVM transported parents to staging facilities near the shelters where their children were being detained.

Despite its substantial transportation portfolio, MVM does not have much experience detaining migrant children. In a previous foray in 2018, the company was criticized for detaining children overnight in a vacant office park in Phoenix.

Two laws weigh heavily on the treatment of detained migrant children. The Prison Rape Elimination Act requires procedures to allow them to independently report physical or sexual abuse by government workers or contractors. To comply with the law, migrant detention centers post phone numbers to abuse hotlines and provide detainees with free access to phones. (Public data show that 105 such reports were made against government immigration contractors in 2018, the most recent year of available data.)

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act provides safeguards to ensure that detained children who could be abused or tortured in their home countries are not sent back into harm’s way.

Neither of these protections appear to apply to the informal hotel stays overseen by MVM.

“A transportation vendor should not be in charge of changing the diaper of a 1-year old, giving bottles to babies or dealing with the traumatic effects they might be dealing with,”said Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, another former deputy assistant director for custody management at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who worked with MVM during his time at the agency.

“I’m worried kids may be exposed to abuse, neglect, including sexual abuse, and we will have no idea,” he said.

A spokesman for MVM said the company’s contract with ICE bars representatives from responding to media requests.

ICE officials provided a statement explaining that MVM workers are trained in the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. But the company is not contractually required to follow its rules.

The statement said company employees are instructed “extensively” on how to handle situations where detained migrants would be left particularly vulnerable in their presence, such as when the migrants are bathing or breastfeeding. It says red flags indicating potential torture or abuse could be reported to the guards, who would then share the information with ICE. But there appear to be no mechanisms for detainees to report abuse by guards, except to other guards.

An ICE spokesman said no more than two children could be housed in a hotel room at any given time, but at least one migrant teenager said he was detained overnight in a hotel room in Miami with two other young migrants and three guards.

Expulsions have come to replace formal deportation proceedings as the primary way of processing migrants who try to enter the United States during the pandemic. About 109,621 people have been expelled from the southwest border since the restrictive policy went into effect.

Announced as a policy to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further in the United States, the border directive adopted in March, which relies on the authority available to the surgeon general during public health emergencies, was intended to block the flow of most nonessential travel across the northern and southern borders. Seeking asylum from violence or persecution is not considered essential under the policy.

But even with the restrictions in place, millions of people continue to cross the border each month, calling into question whether the expulsion policy can truly mitigate the spread of the virus.

And the Trump administration has been testing migrant children to confirm that they have not contracted the coronavirus before expelling them, as was first reported by ProPublica. If the children have been confirmed to be virus-free, they are then being expelled. Some children who test positive have remained in the hotels to quarantine, while other have been placed in government shelters for migrant children, as was the practice before the pandemic.

Unlike children, many adults have been deported and expelled despite having tested positive for the coronavirus.

While the practice of detaining migrant children and families in hotels has been previously reported, the fact that so many well-known hotels are part of the program only became apparent with the release of the list. Some of the hotels listed appeared to be unaware of the program.

After facing scrutiny for detaining dozens of migrant children and parents in its hotels in McAllen, Phoenix and El Paso, Hilton, whose participation was previously reported by The Associated Presssaid that the decision to do so had been made by franchisees. The corporation released a statement saying that it was against company policy for its hotels to be used for detention and that all franchise locations had been notified they should reject future requests for reservations for that purpose.

A legal challenge on behalf of the children detained at the hotel in McAllen was settled earlier this month when the government agreed to release them. One unaccompanied child and the few families that remained were transported to a family detention center in Karnes City, Texas.

A spokeswoman for the Choice Hotel chain, which has been used to detain migrants in Miami, Seattle and San Diego, said in response to the data obtained by The Times, “It has been our position that hotels should not be used as detention facilities, and we are not aware that any hotels in our franchise system are being used in this capacity. We ask that ​our franchised hotels, which are independently owned and operated, only be used for their intended purpose.”

Mike Karicher, a spokesman for the Hampton Inn in Phoenix, one hotel franchise that has been used by MVM, said management was not aware of the activity, and does not support or wish to be associated with it. “The hotel has confirmed that they will not accept similar business moving forward,” he said.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry trade group, said it opposed the use of hotels as detention centers and has sent out guidance to its members on “red flags” that could indicate rooms being used for this purpose.

The expulsion policy is part of a sweeping crackdown by the administration on both legal and illegal immigration that appears to have intensified in recent months. Confidential documents submitted by a court-appointed monitor in a long-running federal case warned that the use of hotels for detaining children had become prevalent.

“Begun as a relatively small, stopgap measure to assist in the transfer of children to ICE flights, the temporary housing program has been transformed by the Title 42 expulsion policies into an integral component of the immigration detention system for U.A.C.s in U.S. custody,” the monitor wrote, using the acronym for unaccompanied alien children.

There have been several legal attempts to challenge the expulsions, especially of children, including one case in which a judge recently appointed by President Trump sided against government lawyers. But the government avoided an injunction blocking the policy in each case by agreeing to release the individual children named as plaintiffs, rendering the challenges moot.

Immigrant advocates say that the government has also agreed to release individual children who have been discovered in the expulsion system.

But there are many others whose locations are unknown.

Lee Gelernt, who is leading the legal challenge against the policy for the A.C.L.U., said the primary problem is that children are not being offered a way to obtain asylum from unsafe conditions in their home countries, as is required by law. “As dangerous as it is for children to be secretly held in hotels,” he said, “the ultimate problem is that they are expelled without a hearing, regardless of where they are held.”

ICE asked migrant parents whether they wished to be separated from their children, agency tells court

Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 11.09.45 AM

Click here to read the CBS News article entitled ICE asked migrant parents whether they wished to be separated from their children, agency tells court

by Camilo Montoya-Galvez / Published May 17, 2020

U.S. immigration authorities said in a court filing late Friday that one of the main reasons detained migrant children were not released this week as part of an order by a federal judge is because their parents did not agree to be separated from them.

In the filing, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement listed several reasons why the agency denied parole to virtually all of the 185 minors in its custody this week. One of them was labeled in spreadsheets as “Parent Does Not Wish to Separate.”

Friday’s court filing indicates that migrant parents were recently asked, among other questions, whether they wished to be separated from their children, so the minors could be released to relatives or other sponsors.

On Thursday, groups that provide legal services at the three family detention centers ICE oversees in Texas and Pennsylvania said their clients were asked, without their attorneys’ knowledge, to choose between staying in detention indefinitely or allowing their children to be released to sponsors — without them.

The advocates accused ICE of presenting parents with this “binary choice,” a policy which could lead to family separation and that the administration has reportedly considered in the past to deter families from crossing the border. Prior to Friday’s court filings, an ICE spokesperson said the agency had “not implemented what has been referred to as ‘binary choice’ at this time,” and was instead “exploring all options” in response to federal litigation.

In one of the court filings Friday, a top ICE official said officers at the three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania conducted “parole determinations” for all the children in its custody in response to an order late last month by the federal judge overseeing litigation related to the Flores Settlement Agreement, which governs the care of migrant minors in U.S. custody.

On April 24, Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles found that the government was violating that agreement and ordered it to “make every effort to promptly and safely” release the children in its custody who have suitable sponsors, don’t pose a danger to themselves or others and are not flight risks.

ICE’s Juvenile Coordinator Deane Dougherty said in Friday’s filing that the agency complied with Gee’s order by questioning parents about possible sponsors for their children and other factors that would affect a decision to release detainees. Dougherty said officers used parole worksheets in use since 2017 and not any other forms during the review. She also said officers did not ask parents to waive the rights their children have under the Flores agreement.

Spreadsheets included with the filings show the agency only granted parole to five minors at the family detention center in Dilley, Texas. It’s unclear if the children granted parole will be released with their parents, since the filings don’t specify it.

The rest of the children were denied parole on the grounds that they were a flight risk, that parents did not wish to be separated from them, that they had orders of deportation and pending decisions from immigration judges or asylum adjudicators. Other reasons included that the children were involved in federal litigation or had “Purposefully evaded U.S. Immigration Controls.”

Reached for comment on Friday’s filings, an ICE spokesperson said the agency “has not instituted binary choice or separated any parents from their child pursuant to ‘binary choice,’ and ICE has not implemented any new forms to conduct the new parole determinations as required by the court — any assertion to the contrary is plainly false.”

ICE officials said the form used during the custody review was created in the wake of an order from Gee in 2017.

Peter Schey, one of the two attorneys who filed the original lawsuit that prompted the Flores agreement in 1997, said the parole review ICE conducted is not what Gee asked for. He said parents reported that they were given forms that were in English, even though most of them do not read the language.

Even though Flores only covers migrant minors, Schey said ICE has broad discretion to release their parents as well. He said the government should be reviewing whether to release children under the terms of the Flores agreement, not under parole, which U.S. laws say can only be granted in “urgent” humanitarian or public benefit circumstances.

“(Parole) is highly discretionary,” Schey said. “Whereas the Flores Settlement, the release is not discretionary. It says, ‘shall release’ unless the child is a flight risk.”

Bridget Cambria, an immigration attorney who represents families held by ICE at the Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania, said parents called her immediately after they were asked whether they would be willing to allow their children to be released without them. “It startled them and they all said no,” Cambria said. “They were scared.”

“One mother told an officer, ‘there’s no way you’re taking my only child away from me,'” Cambria told CBS News. “Most of the mothers became very emotional and cried most of the day, because even though they said ‘no,’ there was a fear that it didn’t matter what they said.”

Cambria said ICE could have avoided alarming parents by advising their lawyers that it would ask them these questions. “For me, to ask a mother, which is what they did in Berks, to give up their one-year-old daughter, to me is unconscionable. I think that’s why they need to be at least held to account.”

In a separate filing on Friday, the Justice Department lawyer representing ICE asked to file the spreadsheets under seal, citing privacy concerns.

The Flores agreement originally applied only to migrant children classified as unaccompanied. But in 2015, Gee ruled that “accompanied” children were also covered and that they should generally not be held in secure, unlicensed facilities with their families for more than 20 days.

The Trump administration has published a rule it hopes will supersede the Flores settlement and allow it to detain families indefinitely in detention centers that do not need a state license. Gee has so far blocked it from taking effect.

According to spreadsheets submitted Friday, many of the children in ICE custody with their families have been detained for more than 20 days; some since August 2019.

Advocates have been urging ICE to release all migrant families and most adults from detention during the coronavirus pandemic, saying detainees are at increased risk of contracting the virus while in congregate settings. The agency said in its court filings Friday that no staff or detainees at the family detention centers have tested positive for coronavirus. However, more than 980 single adults in ICE custody have tested positive for the virus, according to the agency’s latest tally.

Judge orders release of migrant children despite challenges presented by pandemic

By Dennis Romero

April 24, 2020, 10:33 PM PDT / NBC NEWS link to article

A federal judge on Friday ruled that the Trump administration was again violating a longstanding agreement that compels the government to release migrant children detained at the border within 20 days and ordered the minors be released.

Plaintiffs represented by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law have been challenging the child detention policies of the administration of President Donald Trump in Los Angeles federal court, where they’ve alleged the coronavirus crisis has caused further delays in the mandated release of migrant children.

The challenges are being waged under a 1997 settlement between immigrant advocates and the government known as the Flores agreement. It generally requires children detained at the border and kept in nonlicensed facilities to be released within weeks.

Los Angeles-based U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee oversees the settlement and issued a mixed ruling to enforce the Flores agreement and again ordered the government to “expedite the release” of children in its custody.

“This court order could very well prevent hundreds of children from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 infection, and may even save some children’s lives,” longtime plaintiffs’ attorney Peter Schey said by email. “On behalf of the 5,000 detained children we represent, we are deeply grateful for the court’s humane order.”

The Flores agreement has faced multiple challenges since the Trump administration in 2018 enacted a policy of separating family members at the border as a means of dissuading illegal crossings. The administration backed down but was slow to reunite children when their parents.

Plaintiffs alleged the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement stopped releasing children to parents, relatives or potential guardians in New York, California and Washington to avoid becoming entangled in those states’ stay-at-home rules during the pandemic.

They also argued the government was dragging its feet by halting the release process for some children because parents, relatives and potential guardians couldn’t easily be fingerprinted for background checks.

Plaintiffs said delays endangered children as the virus could spread in detention facilities, citing a nonprofit facility in Texas “placed under a 14-day quarantine order,” according to Friday’s ruling.

They also alleged that a teen turned 18 during “quarantine” and was released to ICE rather than going to a family placement program “already secured for him.”

Gee did not agree with all those claims. But she concluded: “ORR and ICE shall continue to make every effort to promptly and safely release” children represented by plaintiffs.

Family separation is back for migrants at the U.S./Mexican border, say advocates

By Julia Ainsley

May 15, 2020, 3:05 PM PDT / NBC NEWS link to article

NBC News obtained a copy of a form ICE is allegedly distributing in family detention centers that lets parents apply for minor children to be released.

WASHINGTON — Several immigrant rights organizations are outraged by a new choice U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is presenting to migrant parents: Separate from your child or stay together in detention indefinitely.

Starting on Thursday, the groups claim, ICE began distributing a form in all three of its family detention centers that would allow parents to apply for their minor children to be released. The form, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, states that it is in compliance with the Flores court agreement, which prohibits ICE from holding minors for more than 20 days.

The released children are placed with family members, sponsors or placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Trump administration faced intense criticism for a Zero Tolerance policy in 2018 in which undocumented migrant children were separated from parents who had illegally crossed the order. The policy was implemented in May 2018 but reversed after an outcry in June.

Click here to see the form.

The current, “voluntary” concept was previously termed “binary choice,” but has never been fully implemented. Now, lawyers representing clients in ICE family detention say parents may be persuaded to separate from their children if they are worried about exposing them to COVID-19 in detention.

The timing is no coincidence, said Shayln Fluharty, director of the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which provides legal services for families in detention in Dilley, Texas. A federal judge recently told ICE it was not in compliance with the Flores agreement, and the forms, said Fluharty, are a way for ICE to show that these parents have chosen to keep their children in detention.

Fluharty said she expected the government to release children to show the judge it was in compliance, not to ask parents to waive their rights to have their children released.

In a statement, a spokesperson for ICE said ICE “is exploring all options in response to Judge Gee’s most recent order which stipulates that ICE safely release children in its custody, who don’t pose a public safety or flight risk, to sponsors within the U.S. ICE continues to work to implement the requirements of the order, and has not implemented what has been referred to as ‘binary choice’ at this time.”

ICE detention centers, which hold immigrants in large open-floor cells with many detainees sharing the same toilet, sink and living area, are becoming a hotbed for COVID-19 infections. The New York Times reported 85 cases in ICE detention in New York and New Jersey. ICE confirmed the first COVID019death of a migrant in its custody on May 7. The migrant was at the single adult detention facility in Otay Mesa, California.

Families Together, a group that advocates for the reunification of separated migrant families, Tweeted on Thursday night: “@ICEGOV gave families a choice today — we’ll let your children go if you give them up. But not you. In the middle of a pandemic. This is horrific.”

RAICES of Texas, which offers legal services to refugees and immigrants, Tweeted on Thursday, “ICE is asking parents to sign a form that would permit their children to be separated from them and released from detention, while forcing the parents to remain detained.”

Judge Finds Government Is Violating Protections for Migrant Children During Pandemic.

By Camilo Montoya- Galvez

APRIL 24, 2020 / 11:16 PM / CBS NEWS link to article

The federal judge overseeing a 1997 court settlement that governs the care of migrant children in U.S. government custody ordered the Trump administration on Friday to promptly release minors from immigration detention, finding yet again that officials are violating the long-standing agreement.

Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which detains migrant families with children, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has custody over unaccompanied minors, are both violating the Flores Settlement Agreement during the coronavirus pandemic, for distinct reasons.

Over the years and throughout different administrations, Gee has found that the government has violated elements of the settlement, primarily its requirement that migrant children be released from custody without “unnecessary delay.” But Friday’s order considered the risks faced by immigrants detained in close quarters during a deadly, global pandemic. In a different order last month, Gee called immigration detention centers “hotbeds of contagion.”


The order applies to the approximately 2,100 unaccompanied minors in ORR custody, as well as the 342 children held with their families at the three ICE family detention centers. The government has released hundreds of migrant children since Gee issued a temporary restraining order in March requiring their quick release under the parameters of the Flores agreement. But on Friday, Gee said “greater speed” is needed to remove more minors from congregate settings.

Gee required both ICE and the U.S. refugee agency to “make every effort to promptly and safely” release the children in their custody who have sponsors, don’t pose a danger to themselves or others and are not flight risks. She prohibited the agencies from using certain justifications to continue detaining minors.

Gee said the U.S. refugee agency can’t block the release of children with sponsors simply because they were formerly in Mexico with their family under the Migrant Protection Protocols and have a pending case linked to that program. Some parents returned to Mexico under the MPP policy have sent their children to seek asylum alone at the U.S. southern border, since unaccompanied minors can’t be placed in the program, per government policy. 

ICE, meanwhile, can’t justify not releasing families with children because they are named in federal litigation or due to the fact that they are waiting for a decision by an immigration judge or for officials to adjudicate their credible fear screenings, the first step in the asylum process.

Gee also ordered the U.S. refugee agency to temporarily waive the fingerprint requirement for some immediate family members, distant relatives and unrelated adults seeking to sponsor unaccompanied migrant minors. While coronavirus shelter in place orders remain in effect, she said officials can release minors to these sponsors without fingerprinting them if that is not available, as long as red flags don’t show up in their background checks. The sponsors also have to agree to submit fingerprints “as soon as practicable.”

Friday’s order stems from a request by lawyers involved in the decades-long Flores litigation for Gee to order the government to rapidly release all children with sponsors. This week, the attorneys said the release of minors is particularly urgent as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout facilities for detained immigrants. 

At least 59 migrant children in ORR-overseen facilities in New York, Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the agency’s latest tally. ICE has not reported any cases at the three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania, but has identified at least 317 positive coronavirus test results among adults in its custody and 35 among direct detention center employees, as of Friday.

The U.S. refugee agency has discharged hundreds of children in recent weeks, with the number of minors in its care dwindling from more than 3,500 in early March to the current 2,100 in-custody population. But the agency has also been receiving very few children from border officials, who are now expelling most unauthorized migrants, including minors who arrive at the border alone, by invoking expansive turn-back powers under a public health order they say is designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Gee said ICE deserved “some credit” for moving away from a “laggardly initial response” and implementing a “rapidly-evolving response to the pandemic” in the wake of the litigation by the children’s lawyers. She also said she appreciated that ICE has released dozens of families in recent weeks. But she said the children’s lawyers, through first-hand accounts from detained immigrants, have undercut the “optimistic portrait” of the agency’s efforts to maintain “safe and sanitary” conditions for children, another Flores Settlement requirement.

Declarations by ICE “paint a picture of sanitary, social-distance-compliant, and medically appropriate facilities,” but that picture is “tarnished by declarations of detainees and their legal services providers,” Gee said.

“(Immigrants) report inaccessible or ineffective medical treatment, deteriorating health while in custody, insufficient soap and sanitation supplies, lack of thorough cleaning by staff, and insufficient use of (personal protective equipment) by staff or detainees,” Gee wrote in her order.

Peter Schey, one of the two attorneys who filed the original lawsuit that prompted the Flores agreement, praised Friday’s order.  

“I think Judge Gee’s order will result in an acceleration of the release of both accompanied and unaccompanied minors in the coming days and weeks as the judge made very clear the government’s current policies are in breach of the settlement,” Schey, the president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, told CBS News.

“The order will put pressure on them to not slow down their releases of children in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Schey added.

In her order, Gee also required court-appointed juvenile coordinators at ICE and the U.S. refugee agency to file monthly reports starting in May on the agencies’ efforts to expedite the release of children and to protect them during the pandemic.

An ICE spokesperson said the agency is reviewing Friday’s order. Officials at ORR did not respond to a request for comment.

First published on April 24, 2020 / 11:16 PM

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CNN: Federal judge to appoint independent monitor for detained migrant children

Los Angeles (CNN) – A federal judge said Friday she will appoint an independent monitor to keep tabs on the conditions migrant children are kept in after they are detained along parts of the southern border.

“There continue to be persistent problems,” US District Judge Dolly Gee said in a status hearing at a federal courthouse in Los Angeles, adding, “There seems to be disconnect between what both sides see at these facilities.”

Read the full CNN story here.

Reuters: Life in the ‘dog pound’

Our ongoing work to give voices to families and children held in detention facilities across the US was highlighted yesterday in a powerful article by Reuters, highlighting individual’s experiences in vivid detail.

“I do not tell [my son] that we are already here. He wouldn’t believe that the United States would treat us this way.” —Mayra

Mayra’s full statement can be found here.

Read the full story on Reuters here.

AP: Immigrant Children Describe Hunger and Cold in Detention

The scathing report we filed this week in federal court offers vivid details of individual childrens’ experiences in detention centers after being separated from their families.

They have spoken out loud and clear, and what they’ve said is they are experiencing enforced hunger, enforced dehydration, enforced sleeplessness. They are terrorized, and we think it is time for the courts and the public to hear their voices.

Read more of this story at the Associated Press. 

Federal District Court Denies Government’s Emergency Request to Terminate Legal Rights of Detained Immigrant Children

We serve as legal counsel for all detained immigrant children nationwide. Today, Federal District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee denied an emergency application brought by the Federal Government seeking to dismantle key provisions of the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, finding the Government’s application to be both “procedurally improper and wholly without merit.” (Order available through this link). On June 20th, President Trump ordered the Department of Justice to submit an emergency request that the Court set aside the rights detained immigrant children have under the terms of this important nationwide settlement. The following day, the Attorney General filed an emergency request to the Court to cancel two key provisions of the 1997 Settlement. The Government asked the court to terminate’s its obligation to provide children the option of prompt release if they are not a flight risk or danger. It also asked the Court to end its obligation to hold non-released children in licensed facilities. (Government’s Application available through this link).

“Today’s ruling is a helpful reminder that while this Administration may engage in ‘tough talk’ and careless decision-making which in this case caused the forced separation of thousands of children from their parents with no plan on how or when to reunify them, there are legal constraints that prevent needlessly harming innocent children, even refugee children,” said Peter Schey, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and counsel for the detained children. “President Trump should target his ‘zero tolerance’ policy on those who are a threat to country’s safety and security, not on children fleeing persecution and seeking safe haven at our borders, as is their right under domestic and international law.”

As the Court noted, “[t]he parties voluntarily agreed to the terms of the Flores Agreement more than two decades ago. The Court did not force the parties into the agreement nor did it draft the contractual language. Its role is merely to interpret and enforce the clear and unambiguous language to which the parties agreed, applying well established principles of law. Regardless, what is certain is that the children who are the beneficiaries of the Flores Agreement’s protections and who are now in Defendants’ custody are blameless. They are subject to the decisions made by adults over whom they have no control. In implementing the Agreement, their best interests should be paramount.”

Our recently filed opposition to the Government’s emergency application is available through this link.

Our opposition was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and the City of Los Angeles, the City of Chicago, the City of New York, and the City & County of San Francisco as amici curiae.

The Flores Settlement Agreement sets out the national standards for the care and placement of immigrant children in the custody of the federal Government. In defense of their “zero tolerance” immigration policy and separation of children from their parents, the Trump Administration has repeatedly asserted that the Flores settlement and the federal court’s interpretation of the settlement “forced” it to separate children and parents. Today’s Order makes clear, this is not true.

“The President has had his turn on the offensive against innocent children,” says Mr. Schey regarding Trump’s attacks on the Flores Settlement. “Until this Administration starts treating children with the decency and respect they deserve given their unique vulnerability as children, we will insure that the courts step in to bring normalcy and decency to the treatment of these vulnerable and powerless children. ”

CHRCL is working in collaboration with numerous organizations and volunteers to facilitate the reunification of separated children and parents, conduct ongoing monitoring efforts at all facilities where immigrant children are held, establish immediate telephonic communication between children and parents in cases where this has not taken place, restore parents’ decision-making over their children, and provide services to help parents already deported apply to return to the U.S. to be safely reunited with their children.

Learn more at www.Reunify.org.

Support for this work may be provided at this link.


Legal Aid Groups Sue Office of Refugee Resettlement Alleging Arbitrary “Step-ups,” Administering Detained Children Psychotropic Drugs Without Parental Consent, and Failing to Provide Due Process in Evaluating Potential Custodians for Detained Juveniles

On April 16, 2018, the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, the National Center for Youth Law, and the Immigration Clinic of the University of California at Davis sued the Office of Refugee Resettlement, alleging that the following policies and practices violate the Flores settlement:

  1. ORR’s policy and practice to “step up” detained youth from shelters to staff-secure, secure and residential treatment centers without providing youth meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard regarding the agency’s justification for step-up.
  2. ORR’s policy and practice to administer powerful psychotropic medications to detained youth regardless of their wishes and without securing their parents’ consent.
  3. ORR’s policy and practice to deny or delay detained children’s release on the grounds their parents or other available custodians are or may harm or neglect them without providing meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard regarding a potential custodian’s actual propensity to harm or neglect.


Plaintiffs’ brief and publicly available evidence supporting the motion are available here.

Questions regarding this litigation or reports of similar violations may be directed to the Center’s General Counsel, Carlos Holguín, crholguin<@>centerforhumanrights.org.