Federal Government Defends Family-Detention Policy

WASHINGTON (McClatchy Washington Bureau/TNS) -
A family detention center in Dilley, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
A family detention center in Dilley, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

The Obama administration is describing a recent motion by lawyers of detained immigrant families as a “misleading” attempt to relitigate a case already decided by the court.

In a response filed Friday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Leon Fresco accuses the lawyers of ignoring a court order that he said permits U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain children with their parent when they face mandatory detention or are deemed flight risks.

“Plaintiffs make claims that are inaccurate, misleading, or an attempt to improperly substitute their judgment regarding the operations of ICE family residential centers in place of the judgment of those authorized by Congress to administer these facilities,” Fresco wrote.

Lawyers for the detained families filed a motion with the U.S. District Court of Central District of California last month charging the administration with violating a federal court ruling last summer that prohibits children and their parents from being detained in jail-like facilities for more time than it takes to process and release them to family members.

The administration operates three family detention centers — in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, and in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Fresco said the facilities operate primarily as short-term intake and processing centers, but added that some families have been held longer because they have not proven they have a credible case for being given asylum, are seeking other avenues to remain in the country, or have been designated flight risks.

Of 18,706 people booked into ICE family residential facilities since Oct. 23, 2015, the average stay was 11.8 days, according to the administration.

The government’s response came four days before a three-judge panel is expected to hear the administration’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling that curtailed immigration officials’ ability to detain migrant mothers and children.

Last July, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles found that the Obama administration’s family detention policy violated an 18-year-old court settlement regarding the detention of migrant children. She gave the government until Oct. 23 to comply with her order that officials release children within five days. She said the government could hold the families a couple of weeks longer under exceptional circumstances, such as the 2014 surge across the border of nearly 70,000 families from Central America.

In addition to claims that the children were held longer than allowed, Peter Schey, the lawyer for the families, argued that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues to detain children without adequate food and bathrooms and are obstructed from seeing counsel. He cited affidavits from detainees who said they were fed only a sandwich consisting of “two frozen pieces of bread and one thin cold slice of ham.”

“As numerous declarations confirm, CBP’s provision of inedible and inadequate food to detained class member children is systemic and widespread,” Schey wrote in the May 17 motion.

The government disputed the affidavits, citing border patrol records that indicated the detained had been provided many meals, including “hot meals” multiple times. The administration didn’t say what those meals consisted of.

“Every time food is offered to a juvenile, it must be documented,” Fresco wrote. “If the food is refused, that must be documented as well.”