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Ruling vindicates Tahirih advocacy to end inhumane detention

Tahirih Justice Center welcomed a July 24, 2015 ruling that mandates the release of children currently detained in the United States with their mothers. The ruling also prohibits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from putting children in detention centers in the future.

In 1997, a settlement agreement in the Flores case made clear that federal immigration authorities could no longer hold children in jail-like detention facilities. Yet in 2014, the Obama Administration began detaining hundreds of child refugees seeking protection along with their mothers, arguing that the Flores settlement did not apply to children with a parent.

Judge Dolly Gee of the Central District Court of California saw differently, however, ruling that children may never be detained, regardless of who is accompanying them. In addition, Gee pointed to the lack of substantiation by the Administration of any claims that detention of children with their mothers would help with immigration enforcement, and also pointed to the extreme cost of this practice.

Tahirih Director of Policy and Programs Archi Pyati said:

Archi Pyati“Judge Gee’s decision is vindication for so many children and their families and communities. As advocates for refugee women and children, we have collectively pushed for an end to this inhumane practice. But we will not stop fighting until all women and children, and especially survivors of violence, are treated fairly and humanely.”

As an advocate close to the epicenter of the child refugee crisis, Tahirih Houston contributed to the petition to Gee, providing a declaration to support the challenge to the inhumane detention of children. Tahirih has advocated for an end to inhumane detention practices for over a year, when immigration authorities began en masse detention of hundreds of refugee mothers and children fleeing violence in Central America.

In her 25-page ruling, Judge Gee found that children had been held in substandard conditions at two Texas detention centers. She found “widespread and deplorable conditions in the holding cells of Border Patrol stations.” In addition, she stated that federal officials “failed to meet even the minimal standard” of “safe and sanitary” conditions at temporary holding cells.

“It is astonishing that Defendants have enacted a policy requiring such expensive infrastructure without more evidence to show that it would be compliant with an Agreement that has been in effect for nearly 20 years or effective at achieving what Defendants hoped it would accomplish,” Gee wrote in the conclusion of her ruling.

Tahirih celebrates her decision, but continues to be concerned about: fairness in screening interviews along the U.S.-Mexico border and inside detention centers, including the language in which they are conducted and access to legal and mental health services prior to the interviews; the length of time until the interviews are conducted; the fairness of any bond amounts or alternatives to detention that are employed; and conditions, treatment, and access to medical care inside the facilities.

“At this juncture, Tahirih would like to send thanks to our supporters and partners, who have stood by our side for the last year as we advocated for the rights of refugee mothers and children. Our policy team is closely monitoring the government’s response to this welcome ruling, and we look forward to a just resolution,” Pyati said.