Each year, thousands of children enter the U.S. in search of asylum. These refugee children, who are fleeing violence, persecution or trafficking of some sort, oftentimes do not even know that they are refugees — and that because of this, they have some protection under the law.
Recently, a federal judge critiqued the 1997 Flores v. Reno settlement, which guaranteed minimum standards for detention and the release of unaccompanied children being held in immigration detention. He stated that the settlement referred to all minors rather than simply those who are unaccompanied, and that they should be released from custody.
Along with this critique, the judge called for accompanying parents to be released so long as it would not “create a flight risk or a safety risk.” Many of the fleeing men and women seeking asylum in the U.S. are doing so for the same reason that their children are — for their safety in one way or another.
On June 24, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that women who passed initial interviews establishing eligibility for protection under U.S. immigration law would be released. This was met with coercion from Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers persuading the women to wear ankle monitors, intimidation from officials, unclear instructions due to language barriers in official documents and delayed access to counsel in bond hearings.
On top of these infractions, the detention standards guaranteed in the Flores settlement are far from being enforced. Many immigrants are kept in holding cells called “hieleras” or ice boxes due to their freezing cold temperatures. These cells are often overcrowded, unsanitary and do not provide detainees with the proper nutrition and hygiene required under the Flores case. These centers are set up to be for short-term detention lasting no more than 12 hours. There are cases, though, where Border Patrol agents have individuals detained for days and sometimes weeks.
The United States has obligations to international law in regard to allowing refugees coming here to seek asylum. The fact that children are often held in detention, given little to no legal representation is a problem in itself. On Aug. 3, the government will submit their reasoning as to why the ruling on the release of detained children and their mothers, especially those with no criminal records, should not be implemented. Until then, we will have to count on organizations like the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project and other advocates to push for immediate reform of this flawed system.