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Nelson Mandela wrote, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than how it treats its children.” The United States continues to lose its way in how we treat the unaccompanied children fleeing the intractable violence, endemic poverty, and widespread lawlessness of the countries located in the Northern Triangle—Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Unaccompanied children detained at our southern border have been held in hotels without proper monitoring by private companies not licensed to care for children.
The decision made by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to detain unaccompanied children in hotel rooms for extended periods while arrangements are made for them to be abruptly expelled from the U.S. is a flagrant violation of the law and, moreover, an abrogation of basic humanitarian principles.
In September, Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled that children detained by DHS are entitled to the legal protections enshrined in the landmark Flores Settlement Agreement, which sets the rules for the care and detention of unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. custody.
In Judge Gee’s decision, she wrote that using hotels to detain the children is a clear violation of Flores because the hotels lack sufficient oversight, state licenses to hold children, and standards for the care of young children. In addition, the children have no access to legal representation—a bedrock requirement under the Flores agreement.
Falling outside the formal network of licensed care facilities, these hotels are not monitored to ensure children are being provided healthy food, physical and mental health care, and access to phones to stay in touch with their families. Parents and lawyers have no way of contacting the children or even knowing exactly where they are being held.
Although the majority of the children are teenagers, there are reports of children as young as two years old being detained in these hotels.
The Administration is justifying this shadowy detention of children under the false guise of the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Gee dismissed this flimsy rationale writing, “Defendants cannot seriously argue in good faith that flouting their contractual obligation to place minors in licensed programs is necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is raising its voice in protest of detaining these children in hotels by unlicensed private companies. USCRI, in a letter signed by 56 civil and human rights organizations, strongly urges the DHS Inspector General and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to conduct a rigorous investigation of potential civil rights violations, government waste, and misconduct under the Flores Settlement Agreement and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
Adding to the law is the widespread support of Americans for the compassionate and humane care of these children.
It is shown in numerous opinion polls that the vast majority of Americans believe that the U.S. should offer appropriate shelter and support services for unaccompanied children while their legal cases are being reviewed—not deport them to their home countries before due process.
According to Eskinder Negash, President and CEO of USCRI, “Historically, the U.S. has been a global leader in advocating for the rights of the child. USCRI will continue to raise our voice during these challenging times to find our way back to the humanitarian values and principles that have built this nation. This is who we are.”
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
ADL (Anti-Defamation League)
American Academy of Pediatrics
Association of Children’s Residential Centers (ACRC)
Bethany Christian Services
Board of Child Care
Bridges Faith Initiative
Center For Family Services
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for the Study of Social Policy
Child Welfare League of America
Children’s Defense Fund
Children’s Defense Fund Texas
Church World Service
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)
Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic
Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants
Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT)
Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island, Inc.
Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc.
First Focus on Children
Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project
Freedom Network USA
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Heartland Human Care Services
Human Rights First
Immigration Counseling Service
Julia M. Toro Law Firm, PLLC
Latinas Unidas por un Nuevo Amanecer (L.U.N.A.)
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
National Association of Counsel for Children
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
National Council of Jewish Women
National Immigration Litigation Alliance
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
National Youth Advocate Program, Inc.
Nationalities Service Center
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Physicians for Human Rights
Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network
Save the Children Action Network
Southern Poverty Law Center
Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas
The Episcopal Church
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services
Union for Reform Judaism
Witness at The Border
Young Center for Immigrant Children Rights
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