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August 10, 2018

Judge Orders Independent Auditor to Oversee Family Detention Facilities

By Kevin Schuster

In April 2018, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law filed a motion to enforce the Flores settlement agreement, claiming that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has breached the Flores agreement. The motion was filed in response to the administration’s implementation of a new “zero tolerance” policy, which criminally prosecuted asylum seekers and led to the separation of thousands of children from their parents.

While some children have been reunited with their families under court order, Shiloh Residential Treatment Center—located just south of Houston—is still holding hundreds of children, well past the court-mandated reunification deadline. This problematic detention center has been accused of violating the Flores settlement agreement, which governs detention conditions for children and prevents children from being held for more than 20 days in immigration custody. Reports claim that Shiloh staff forcefully drugged children and denied them drinking water.

In response to these allegations, Judge Dolly Gee, a district judge who oversees the Flores settlement agreement, ordered the following:

  • All children must be immediately transferred out of Shiloh detention center and placed in the least restrictive setting appropriate to the child’s age and special needs. If a psychologist or psychiatrist has determined the child poses a risk of harm to self or others, the child may remain in Shiloh detention center.
  • Shiloh detention center must cease any security measures that are not necessary for the protection of children. This includes allowing children to access drinking water and ability  to talk privately on the phone.
  • Shiloh detention center must comply with all Texas child welfare laws regarding the administration of psychotropic medications to children.
  • Children cannot be medicated without providing a disclosure to their parent/guardian and receiving their informed written consent. If the ORR is unable to obtain such consent, they must obtain a court order authorizing them to administer medications to the child.

Additionally, the Flores plaintiffs targeted all Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facilities along the Texas Border and the three ICE family detention centers: Berks Family Residential Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania; Karnes Residential Center in Karnes City Texas; and South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.

Judge Gee ordered an independent auditor to monitor the treatment of children in these facilities. Judge Gee also ordered that:

  • Parents or guardians must be provided with reasons for placing their child in a secure facility within a reasonable time before or after the placement decision. This notice of reasons must be in a written language that the parent or guardian understands.
  • ORR must remove individuals from secure facilities if they were placed there solely because they may be chargeable with an offense or if they are affiliated with a gang but ORR lacks evidence that they committed any other offense.
  • The ORR director does not need to approve the release of individuals who 1.) were previously detained in secure facilities but have since been transferred to less restrictive facilities, 2.) won their bond hearings, or 3.) were placed in secure facilities based on insufficient information.
  • ORR must stop requiring that post-release services are in place for children prior to their release if a home study service was already conducted at the child’s sponsor’s home.

With this ruling, the court resoundingly rejected the Trump Administration's request to renegotiate the Flores agreement. While removing children from unsafe conditions and allowing for independent auditors to oversee the treatment of children in family detention centers is a step in the right direction, families who seek asylum should never be criminally prosecuted and detained. It is time that the United States halt all practices that strip the freedom and dignity of those seeking protection on our shores.