Judge Appoints Monitor to Ensure Safe Conditions for Kids in Immigration Custody

Central American asylum-seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12, 2018, near McAllen, Texas.  (John Moore/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Los Angeles named an independent monitor Friday to oversee conditions for children being held in immigration custody.

The move came after U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee found that the federal government was not complying with the Flores Settlement Agreement, a federal consent decree that sets standards for the care and treatment of migrant children.

Gee named former U.S. Attorney Andrea Sheridan Ordin to monitor compliance with the court's orders. Ordin is now empowered to conduct unannounced inspections of shelters and detention centers, where the court found some minors have been subject to frigid and unsanitary conditions, drugged without consent and denied information about legal services.

Ordin was appointed under the 1997 consent decree. It specifies that children in immigration custody must be held in the least restrictive setting, in licensed child-care facilities overseen by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, known as ORR. The consent decree also requires that children be released to a relative or sponsor whenever possible.

Courts have ruled that the Flores agreement applies to children apprehended with a parent as well as unaccompanied migrant children or those forcibly separated from parents. Courts have also said that children in immigration custody are entitled to a hearing to consider their release.

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Last year, Gee found that children were being held in unlicensed Immigration and Customs Enforcement family detention centers for longer than the court's 20-day limit. She appointed juvenile coordinators at ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to improve compliance.

But in July, she found additional violations regarding kids who were placed in juvenile jails and a psychiatric facility, and she decided to find an independent monitor to report to the court on violations.

Ordin will serve for at least a year, beginning Oct. 17. The appointment can be extended up to three years.

She will have the authority to gather documents and data on conditions for migrant children. And she'll have broad powers to interview staff at ICE, ORR and the contractors who run the facilities housing migrant kids, as well as the children themselves and their adult relatives.

Ordin is to file reports and recommendations to the court every 90 days.

Gee's appointment of Ordin comes as the Trump administration is appealing aspects of the Flores agreement and simultaneously seeking to replace it with regulations that would allow ICE to hold children with parents indefinitely in  family detention centers, among other changes. The government is accepting public comment on the proposed rules through Nov. 6.