Federal judge to consider partial end to special judicial review of migrant children

Federal judge to consider partial end to special judicial review of migrant children

LOS ANGELES (AP) — For 27 years, federal courts have exercised special oversight over the custody conditions of migrant children. The Biden administration wants a judge to partially lift these powers.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee will consider the request at a hearing in Los Angeles on Friday, just a week before new safeguards take effect that the administration says meet, and in some ways exceed, standards set forth in a historic settlement named in honor of Jenny Flores. an immigrant child from El Salvador.

The administration wants to end the Flores Agreement within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which takes care of unaccompanied children within 72 hours of their arrest by the Border Patrol. It would remain in effect within the Border Patrol and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

Flores is a cornerstone of the policy, requiring the United States to quickly release children in custody to their families in the country and to establish standards at licensed shelters, including food, drinking water, supervision by adults, emergency medical services, toilets, sinks, temperature control and ventilation. This situation grew out of widespread allegations of mistreatment in the 1980s.

Judicial review gives lawyers representing migrant children broad power to visit child care centers and conduct interviews with staff and other migrants. They can file complaints with Gee, who can order changes.

Advocates for migrant children vigorously oppose the move to reduce court oversight, arguing in part that the federal government has failed to develop a regulatory framework in states that have revoked the licenses of facilities serving migrant children or who might do so in the future.

Texas and Florida — led by Republican governors critical of unprecedented migration flows — revoked their licenses in 2021, leaving what advocates describe as an oversight vacuum that endangers children’s safety.

The Justice Department says new safeguards that take effect July 1 will make Flores useless in health and social service settings. It says HHS will require shelters to follow state licensing standards, even if they are not licensed, and will increase site visits in those states to ensure they are complying. conform to it.

Maintaining judicial oversight from the Department of Homeland Security would preserve critical parts of Flores, including a 20-day limit on the detention of unaccompanied children and parents traveling with a child. Border Patrol detention centers experienced extreme overcrowding as recently as 2021.

When Flores took effect in 1997, the care of migrant children fell entirely under the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was disbanded six years later with the creation of Homeland Security. Since 2003, health and social services have taken care of unaccompanied children within 72 hours of their arrest.

The split became a nightmare in 2018 when the Trump administration separated thousands of children from their parents at the border and the two departments’ computers were not properly linked to quickly reunite them.

In 2014, a surge of unaccompanied children at the border prompted increased scrutiny from the federal government. Since then, apprehensions of children traveling alone at the Mexican border have increased, exceeding 130,000 last year. Health and Human Services places the vast majority of unaccompanied children in the care of close relatives while immigration judges evaluate their futures.

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