The federal government’s justification for violating detention rules for immigrant minors is not valid. The latest arguments favoring their incarceration do not do not contribute anything new, meaning that the children and youths must be freed by October 23rd.
The decision made by federal Judge Dolly M. Gee last Friday was unambiguous. For the second time, the judge determined that the government’s holding of the minors violated parts of the Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997. The precedent establishes that minors must be placed with a relative or at an appropriate site for custody ‒ different from a security or confinement facility ‒ within five days of their detention. This period may increase if the number of minors is too large, but they must be processed as quickly as possible, according to the law.
The judge mentioned early in August that holding cell conditions were “deplorable” and that they failed to comply with safety and sanitary regulations. The Department of Justice’s arguments did not add anything to the discussion: They said that they cannot do their job in five days and that prolonged detention dissuades other minors ‒ whether alone or with their mothers ‒ from coming to the United States.
This last justification is unacceptable in every respect. Most of these families and minors have solid cases for asylum, according to government estimates. Instead of treating them individually, the government argues that confining them makes them an example that will help discourage others.
The federal government refused to enforce the Flores Settlement Agreement from the start when thousands of unaccompanied minors, and minors who came with their mothers, arrived in the U.S. fleeing violence in Central America. Already existing anti-immigrant pressure ‒ which has grown during the primary election campaign ‒ cannot be allowed to affect government decisions that have been in place for more than a decade.
It is time to do the right thing. Free these minors according to each case, instead of disregarding the law and using them to dissuade others.