A federal judge ruled that the Obama administration's detention of children and their mothers who were caught crossing the border illegally is a serious violation of a longstanding court settlement, and that the families should be released as quickly as possible, the New York Times reports. Roundly rejecting the administration's arguments for holding the families, Judge Dolly Gee in California found that two detention centers in Texas that the administration opened last summer fail to meet minimum legal requirements of the 1997 settlement for facilities housing children. The judge also found that migrant children had been held in “widespread deplorable conditions” in Border Patrol stations after they were first caught, and she said the authorities had “wholly failed” to provide the “safe and sanitary” conditions required for children even in temporary cells.
The opinion was a significant blow to detention policies of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in response to an influx of children and parents, mostly from Central America, across the border in South Texas last summer. Judge Gee gave a withering critique of the administration's positions, declaring them “unpersuasive” and “dubious” and saying officials had ignored “unambiguous” terms of the settlement. The administration has struggled with a series of setbacks in the federal courts for its immigration policies, including decisions that halted federal programs to give protection from deportation and work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants. Judge Gee's decision was based on the 18-year-old settlement in a class action lawsuit known as Flores that has governed the treatment of minors apprehended at the border who are unaccompanied. Gee found that Flores applies to children caught with their parents.