Donald Trump and his administration continue to dehumanize immigrants with their abusive tactics. Concerns have been raised throughout Trump’s four years in office in regard to how migrant children are treated including being separated from their families in addition to being kept in cages. Following a report by The New York Times, a federal judge ruled Friday that the Trump administration stop detaining migrant children in hotels prior to deporting them. The report found that the administration “detained at least 860 migrants at a Quality Suites in San Diego, Hampton Inns in Phoenix, McAllen and El Paso, Texas, a Comfort Suites Hotel in Miami, a Best Western in Los Angeles and an Econo Lodge in Seattle.”
According to the National Center for Youth Law, 650 immigrant children were held in hotels by federal agents between April and July, NBC News reported. The Times report found that children subject to these stays were as young as 1-years-old and since the hotel stays were overseen by private security, “policies designed to prevent abuse in federal custody,” did not apply. Children were placed in these hotels for multiple days and with the amount of abuse that occurs in “protected” facilities, one can only imagine the abuse they faced there.
The order, issued by Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, not only restricts the administration from ever placing children in hotels again, but gave the U.S. Department of Homeland Security until Sept. 15 to transfer all minors both accompanied and unaccompanied in hotels to licensed facilities. In these facilities, children are supposed to have access to legal services, education, and the opportunity to be placed with relatives already in the U.S. As children are placed in hotels, attorneys have coined the practice “black sites” because of their inability to access hotels and reach the children, in her ruling Gee referred to testimonies of this. The ruling made an exception for limited hotel stays of one to two nights for minors in transit.
When the Trump administration attempted to use COVID-19 as a reason for placing children in hotels, Gee, appointed by Obama, dismissed these claims on the basis of the lack of evidence available to prove hotels are safer than government facilities. Under the guise of stopping the spread of COVID-19, the administration has quickly been deporting immigrants both adults and children apprehended at the border.
“This court is sensitive to the exigencies created by COVID-19 and recognizes that the pandemic may require temporary, emergency modifications to the immigration system to enhance public safety. But that is no excuse for [the Department of Homeland Security] to skirt the fundamental humanitarian protections that the Flores Amendment guarantees for minors in their custody, especially when there is no persuasive evidence that hoteling is safer than licensed facilities,” Gee wrote.
The administration held its argument that the court does not have the authority to prevent it from using hotels because minors do not fall under the Flores Amendment court settlement outlining how children can be detained. In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is aware of the hearing held today on Plaintiffs’ motions to enforce. ICE is evaluating the court’s decision but is unable to comment further due to ongoing litigation. As part of the Department of Homeland Security’s mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the Department’s mission and values, and uphold our laws while continuing to provide the nation with safety and security.”
While the order does not prevent the administration from quickly deporting children back to their home countries, it still comes as a win for immigrant rights activists. "We are thrilled that the Court unequivocally stripped away the government's legal fiction that these children are not in 'immigration custody,'" Neha Desai told CBS News, director of the immigration division at the National Center for Youth Law. "While the government keeps insisting on violating the basic human rights of children, thankfully the courts are here to uphold the rule of law." The order serves as hope that not all legislators will allow the Trump administration to continue to get away with its xenophobic and inhumane actions towards immigrants.