Lawsuits lining up over detention of families and children

Friday, Oct. 23 came and went without much fanfare, at least in the courtroom. That was the day that Judge Dolly Gee had given the U.S. government to be in compliance with her court order of July 24, 2015, regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s practice of detaining minors from Central America. As reported in Global Sisters Report, Judge Gee had ruled that a consent agreement entered in 1997 in the Flores case applied to all minors, not just unaccompanied minors, as the government had argued. In her strongly worded order, she also found that the government’s current practice of holding families in detention centers was in violation of the Flores agreement.

The government filed an appeal on Sept. 18, but enforcement of Judge Gee’s order has not been stayed pending the appeal. The Los Angeles Times reported that the government didn’t intend to file anything in court to prove that it was in compliance, so the attorneys for the detained children and families may end up having to file a motion asking the court to hold the government in contempt.

But outside the courtroom, plenty has been going on.

More families are being detained now than when Judge Gee issued her order, The Los Angeles Times article reports. At the Dilley, Texas, facility for instance, 658 women and children were detained in July, compared with 1,658 last week.

Children who are not immediately released by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency are to be housed only in a “non-secure facility that is licensed by an appropriate state agency to care for dependent children” according to the court order.

So there’s been a flurry of activity related to licensing issues. On Oct. 22, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services issued a statement declaring that the current use of the Berks County Residential Center as a secure facility for refugee children and their families is out of compliance with its present license. How that plays out is yet to be seen but advocates are calling for its closure, according to a Huffington Post article.

Meanwhile, the private prison corporations which operate the family detention facilities in Dilley and Karnes have applied for licensing as child care facilities, and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has issued an emergency rule in order to pave the way. Grassroots Leadership has filed a lawsuit challenging this action. The Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Dilley facility, has already held a public hearing on the matter of licensing, and the GEO Group which operates the Karnes one will be having one on Nov. 2.

Many questions arise regarding private corporations operating immigration detention centers, particularly because they are run like prisons. Some deal with conditions, abuse and lack of oversight.

And the Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights have just issued a report “Banking on Detention, " which examines how contract provisions with private corporations which require a guarantee payment for a minimum number of beds in certain facilities is driving up the number of immigrants being detained.

[Jan Cebula, OSF, is liaison to women religious in the United States for Global Sisters Report.]