Court Orders Government To Stop Detaining Immigrant Children In Motels
Marking a notable win in the ongoing fight to protect detained immigrant children, the National Center for Youth Law and co-counsel ended the U.S. government’s practice of placing and holding children in unmonitored and unlicensed motels for long periods before expelling them from the country.
On August 14, 2020, NCYL and co-counsel filed a motion to enforce the Flores Settlement Agreement, asking the Court to order the government to acknowledge that children designated by expulsion under “Title 42” are class members in accordance with the Flores Settlement and therefore must be afforded the protections the Settlement requires.
In September 2020, Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Federal District Court for the Central District of California granted this motion, holding that the government could no longer continue its so-called “hoteling” practices. The court order affirmed that immigrant children should not be “left in a legal no-man’s land, where no enforceable standards apply.”
Additionally, the order unequivocally held that these children are protected by the Flores Settlement Agreement and that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “cannot evade its obligations under the Flores Agreement by hiding behind a different statute while exercising unfettered discretion over the minors within its care.”
The order required DHS to stop placing children in motels that same month and to remove children from motels as soon as possible.
The order was urgently needed
In March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order under Title 42 barring all “non-essential” travelers from entering the United States – including asylum seekers and children. Instead of children and families entering Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody and then being transferred to Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, children and families were instead summarily returned or “expelled” without legally mandated protection screenings, immigration court hearings, or other due process safeguards.
Between April and July 2020, more than 650 immigrant children were transferred from CBP to ICE , detained in motels, and then expelled from the U.S. under Title 42. Many of the children detained in motels — a group that included babies and toddlers — were held for more than a week. These children were rarely permitted outdoor recreation, were not permitted to access legal representation, and were constantly surveilled by contractors who were not required to have experience or training in caring for children.
Judge Gee’s ruling noted that the COVID-19 pandemic offered “no excuse for DHS to skirt the fundamental humanitarian protections that the Flores Agreement guarantees for minors in their custody, especially when there is no persuasive evidence that hoteling is safer than licensed facilities.”
The National Center for Youth Law applauds the court for seeing through the government’s shameful ruse and affirming that these children are protected by the Flores Settlement Agreement.
District court denies government’s emergency stay motion
On September 17, 2020, the government filed a motion to stay the September 4 District Court order in district court. NCYL and co-counsel filed an opposition to the requested stay on September 18. On September 21, the district court denied the government’s request for a stay, noting that the government did not “provide any support for their bewildering logic that a public health law designed to prevent the introduction of persons and diseases into the United States somehow allows DHS to detain minors in hotels open to the American public but not house them in monitored, regulated, licensed facilities.”
Ninth Circuit denies government’s attempt to stay District Court’s order
On September 24, 2020, the government filed a motion to stay the September 4 District Court order in the Ninth Circuit. NCYL and co-counsel filed an opposition to the requested stay on September 25. On October 4, the Ninth Circuit denied the government’s request for a stay, finding that the government was unlikely to succeed on the merits of the appeal and that it had not established a likelihood of irreparable injury.
NCYL remains committed to ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of detained immigrant youth and will continue to work against attempts by our government to violate these children’s rights.