POLITICS

Lawyers want judge to appoint monitor to oversee detention of immigrant children

Immigrant children line up in the cafeteria at the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas.

Immigrant children line up in the cafeteria at the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas.  (AP)

As part of an accord at the center of a lawsuit set to be debated next month in a California appeals court, immigrant rights lawyers want a federal judge to appoint a special monitor to oversee a legal agreement on the detention of children caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The request is part of a motion filed this week in Los Angeles federal court by attorneys who say officials are violating a July 2015 court order which ruled immigrant children should be released "without unnecessary delay" from detention centers.

Advocates for immigrant rights filed the lawsuit after federal officials began holding mothers and their children at detention centers set up in response to the arrival of tens of thousands from Central America in 2014. The Justice Department had argued it was necessary to modify the 1997 settlement and use detention to try to deter more immigrants from coming to the border after the 2014 surge.

"Defendants have nevertheless ignored their obligation to treat children 'with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors' and have continued to violate the settlement and this court's orders," attorneys for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and other groups wrote in their motion.

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in an email that the agency "is complying with the terms of the agreement and the court's ... order even as we appeal that ruling. Our response to the motion will be filed expeditiously."

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The immigrant rights lawyers asked that a special monitor be appointed for two years to oversee compliance with the settlement. The monitor should not have the authority to issue orders or impose any sanctions, but may recommend to the judge various orders, including any contempt sanctions, they said.

In their motion, the lawyers said conditions at Border Patrol holding cells near the border "remain deplorable, with children forced to sleep in overcrowded cells on cold concrete floors ... no change of clothes, no soap, towels or washing facilities, and entirely inadequate food and dirty drinking water."

The lawyers also said that children and their mothers who are then transferred and held at two Texas detention centers — the 500-bed facility in Karnes City and the 2,400-bed South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley — are not informed of their rights under the 1997 agreement. Both detention centers are located south of San Antonio.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, through the private prison firms that run the two Texas detention centers, has been working to get the Texas facilities licensed for child care. But an activist group has sued the Texas agency working to license the facilities. The detention center in Karnes City has been given a temporary license but a license for the Dilley facility is on hold. A judge is set to resume on June 1 a court hearing in Austin on whether to grant a temporary injunction putting the licensing process in Texas on hold.

Federal officials say these ongoing courtroom battles — in Texas and California — make it more difficult for them to respond to this summer's expected influx of immigrant families.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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