Court records reveal that a federal judge in California has ordered the release of undocumented immigrant children from U.S. detention centers “without unnecessary delay.”
The order calls for the children’s mothers to be released with them whenever possible.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee reaffirmed her July order and denied the government’s request to reconsider it, according to Fox News.
Gee told government lawyers Friday that their argument that the Department of Homeland Security was doing its best to move families through the system quickly was nothing new. She described their arguments as “repackaged and reheated.”
The judge also rejected as “fear-mongering” and “speculative at best” the government’s claim that releasing the undocumented immigrants would result in a mass influx of immigrants pouring over U.S. borders.
She gave the DHS until Oct. 23 to comply with her order after finding that the department was in violation of a longstanding agreement that immigrant children may not be held in unlicensed facilities.
This is the second time Gee has ruled that detaining children violates parts of a 1997 settlement from an earlier case. The settlement requires minors to be placed with a relative or in appropriate non-secure custody within five days. If there is a large influx of minors, times may be longer, but children still must be released as expeditiously as possible, under the terms of the law.
Immigration officials “routinely failed to process as expeditiously as possible to place accompanied minors, and in some instances, may still be unnecessarily dragging their feet now,” Gee said.
The government poured millions of dollars into two large detention centers in Texas after thousands of immigrant families, mostly mothers with children from Central America, crossed the Rio Grande into the U.S. last summer. Many have petitioned asylum after fleeing gang and domestic violence in their home countries.
Two centers outside San Antonio recently held more than 1,300 women and children combined. A third, smaller facility in Pennsylvania, held about 70 people. All three are overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement but managed by private prison operators.
Between September 2013 and October 2014, some 68,000 family members — mostly mothers with children in tow — were caught at the border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Between last October and June of this year, less than 27,000 have been apprehended, a drop authorities say is a result of better enforcement in both the U.S. and Mexico.
Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, was delighted with the court’s order.
He said that it “will protect refugee children and their mothers from lengthy and entirely senseless detention.”
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