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Judge demands independent audit of conditions at detention centers for migrant children

Judge demands independent audit of conditions at detention centers for migrant children
Children who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the U.S. sit inside a facility in McAllen, Texas. (Associated Press)

A federal judge in Los Angeles will appoint an independent auditor to oversee the treatment of children in immigrant detention facilities.

The Friday ruling came a day after the court-imposed deadline for the Trump administration to reunite families separated at the border under its zero-tolerance policy. As of Friday, hundreds of children remained isolated from their parents.

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A monitor is expected to be appointed within a few weeks.

Peter Schey, lead counsel and director of the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, said the monitor will oversee all three family detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement — two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania — as well as Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande sector along the Texas border.

Schey’s group filed a motion seeking an independent monitor for the Rio Grande sector after lawyers observed inhumane conditions there. He said his team will discuss in the coming weeks whether to file another motion asking that the monitor also oversee all other Border Patrol facilities along the border.

The group filed a scathing report last week including testimony from more than 200 parents and children held in California, Texas and other states who described cramped cells without enough bedding to sleep, cold or frozen food and a lack of basic hygiene products.

A Mexican woman said her daughter had wet herself on their first night because there were so many people sleeping in the room that she couldn’t get to the toilet. A Guatemalan boy told attorneys that he had no soap, towels or a toothbrush.

“These are problems that appear to be pervasive,” Schey said Friday. “We’re hoping that that has a salutary effect on Border Patrol operations throughout the southern border. Hopefully they won’t wait until we bring a new motion to expand the special monitor before they will learn from this and correct their ways.”

The interviews were done through a 1997 court settlement called the Flores agreement that governs how long migrant children may be held in custody and under what conditions. The settlement allows attorneys to periodically inspect detention facilities that children are held in.

This month, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee rejected the federal government’s request to renegotiate the terms of the Flores agreement to hold children for longer than 20 days.

She ruled in 2015 that the government had breached the agreement by allowing rooms that were cold and overcrowded as well as inadequate nutrition and hygiene.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman said the agency maintains the highest standards of care for people in its custody.

“DHS facilities undergo constant unannounced inspections by outside groups, the Department’s Inspector General and court ordered monitors,” she said. “DHS take our responsibilities extremely seriously and perform them professionally and humanely.”

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