Weeks after rejecting the Trump administration’s efforts to detain immigrant families for long terms, a Los Angeles judge will hear Friday from civil rights attorneys alleging that the government is holding child migrants under conditions that violate federal law.
Attorneys from the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law contend that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement has adopted policies and practices that prolong the detention of immigrant children under harsh and illegal conditions.
A request for comment sent to a Health and Human Services representative was not immediately answered.
In its facilities, plaintiffs allege, the resettlement office is “creating a continuum of trauma” that detained children — “many of whom arrive in the United States having suffered horrific abuse abroad” — are ill-equipped to deal with, according to a motion at the center of the hearing before U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee.
Administration officials maintain that the family separation policy implemented by President Donald Trump is humane. However, a long-running lawsuit over the 1997 so-called “Flores settlement” — which regulates the detention of immigrant children — alleges unlawful conditions at Office of Refugee Resettlement-contracted facilities.
Center for Human Rights lawyers contend in court papers, among other things, that child migrants are routinely drugged without approval.
“ORR routinely administers children psychotropic drugs without lawful authorization,” according to the memorandum filed in April. “When youth object to taking such medications, ORR compels them. ORR neither requires nor asks for a parent’s consent before medicating a child, nor does it seek lawful authority to consent in parents’ stead. Instead, ORR or facility staff sign `consent’ forms anointing themselves with `authority’ to administer psychotropic drugs to confined children.”
Earlier this month, Gee rejected an effort by government lawyers to change the rules set by the Flores settlement on the detention of migrant children. The Trump administration had attempted to overturn a ban on child detention for more than 20 days, as well as a prohibition on immigrant children held in daycare facilities not licensed by the state.
The government argued that handling the cases of illegal immigrants usually take far more than 20 days to litigate, so it sought permission to allow kids to be held in unlicensed facilities indefinitely with their detained parents while the legal process plays out.
The Trump administration argued in court papers that proposed changes to the decades-old Flores settlement were “justified by several material changes in circumstances — chief among them the ongoing and worsening influx of families unlawfully entering the United States at the southwest border.”
Three years ago, the Obama administration asked for similar modifications to the settlement in order to hold families in detention facilities for extended periods, but Gee also rejected that request.
The government’s latest effort came one day after Trump’s executive order purported to halt the separation of children from undocumented immigrant adults under his “zero tolerance” policy cracking down on illegal border crossings.
In rejecting the government’s request, Gee wrote that the Trump administration sought to “hold minors in indefinite detention in unlicensed facilities, which would constitute a fundamental and material breach of the parties’ agreement,” but she further explained that “all parties admit that these parents may also affirmatively waive their children’s rights to prompt release and placement in state-licensed facilities.”
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