Court rules family detention illegal!

On Friday night, Judge Dolly Gee released the long-awaited decision in the case against family detention. She ruled that the Administration’s family detention policy violates the terms of the Flores settlement, which lays out minimum conditions for children held in federal immigration custody. Watch a quick video here by AILA attorneys with the main points of the decision and what happens next.

In the decision, Judge Gee excoriates the government's reasoning for maintaining family detention in phrases that display the same outrage felt by immigrant advocates. "It is astonishing that Defendants [ICE] 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.

The decision is clear that children, even if with a parent, cannot be held in secure, unlicensed facilities. This covers all three family detention camps: Dilley, Karnes, and Berks. The government has until August 3 to provide arguments to why the decision should not be enforced, but advocates are urging the Administration not to appeal this decision and to immediately close all three family detention camps.

Advocates are also calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop the practice of placing electronic ankle monitors on parents released from the facilities and to fully educate families on the terms of their release. Judge Gee's decision is clear that the Flores settlement requires children to be released first to their parents, as long as they do not provide any flight risk or threat to national security. Accordingly, advocates are urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to ensure that no child is separated from their parents.

Here are some further reactions from leaders in Texas on this victory in the fight to end family detention:

“This decision affirms what thousands of people across the country have been saying for more than a year now: family detention has to end. We knew all along that the policy was immoral, but now the judge has made it clear that it is also illegal,” — Cristina Parker, immigration programs director, Grassroots Leadership

“Judge Gee’s decision signals that end of family detention. It confirms  that the jailing of mothers and children seeking refuge in this country is illegal.  Families should not have to spend one more day in detention centers run by for profit prison companies.   I hope that the Obama administration accepts the sound reasoning  of the court  and takes immediate steps to close the Dilley, Karnes and Berks facilities as soon as possible.” — Barbara Hines, Senior Emerson Fellow and former Co-Director of the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic. Hines provided an expert affidavit in the case, which the judge cited in her decision.

“Detention of refugee women and children over the last thirteen or fourteen months at Artesia, Berks, Karnes, and Dilley was immoral, unconstitutional, a violation of international law, contrary to the fourteen-year old Flores settlement, and the cause of tremendous unnecessary suffering.  The only people who benefitted from this human rights travesty were the private prison profiteers, who earned $300 dollars a day per incarcerated refugee.” — Virginia Raymond, private immigration attorney in Austin who represented many of the families detained at Karnes

“After more than a year of legal battles, a federal court chastised the Obama administration for forgetting that committing children to prisons has been illegal for almost twenty years. Unfortunately, in that span of time a harsh example was made out of thousands of refugee children and their mothers who, after fleeing unspeakable violence, languished in unsafe and unsanitary prison conditions. We urge the administration to hear the clear message being sent from the community, and now from the courts: end family detention forever.” — Jonathan Ryan, Executive Director, RAICES

“Texas United for Families (TUFF) was delighted to hear the court’s ruling this weekend, because we recognize that the administration’s family detention policy violates the rights of migrant children and threatens the wellbeing of our families. We will be vigilant during the next months to see how the administration handles the release of these families, and we will continue to fight if our families get further separated, because we believe that children do not only deserve to be living in homes, but also they need the love and support of their parents and guardians.” — Andrea Ortiz, member of Texans United for Families