Government Must Change Child Detention Policies, Orders Judge

By Rachel Nusbaum,

Government Must Change Child Detention Policies, Orders Judge

A child waits in a U.S. government facility in Brownsville, Texas.

(Eduardo Perez/CBP)

Children should not be held in U.S. immigration detention for more than 72 hours unless they are a significant flight risk or a danger to themselves and others, a federal judge ruled late Friday.

Simon Wettenhall, lead advocate at HIAS, and his colleagues have been working with young asylum seekers from Central America since June 2014, when President Obama issued a memorandum prioritizing these cases. HIAS helps these young people navigate the long, complex process of seeking official protection and legal status.

“The sooner these children can be released from the extremely unpleasant detention situation and reunited with a parent or guardian, the better,” Wettenhall says, noting that many have already lived through harrowing situations. Children frequently tell him about insecurity at home due to the absence of one or more parents in the United States; being attacked or extorted by gangs, or the murder of family members. HIAS’ ongoing case load includes more than two dozen such cases.

Judge Dolly Gee of Federal District Court for the Central District of California ordered the Obama administration to "promptly release children held at family detention facilities," to a parent or guardian in the United States. The ruling also specifies that if a child and parent are both being detained, the parent should be released as well, if possible, allowing families to stay together.

The decision is good news for almost everyone, Wettenhall says. “The only losers here are the detention corporations, who can’t bill for those empty beds.”    

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