• June 18th, 2024
  • Tuesday, 02:33:38 PM

US Court Orders Transfer of Migrant Children From ‘Profoundly Inhumane’ Open-Air Sites


By Brett Wilkins


Migrant rights defenders on April 4 cheered a federal court ruling ordering U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop holding undocumented minors in squalid open-air detention sites in Southern California and to transfer all children held in such locations to “safe and sanitary” spaces.


Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contended that people held in the open-air detention sites (OADS) are not yet in U.S. custody. However, Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles issued a 12-page ruling that found migrant children are entitled to protection under the Flores Settlement Agreement, which established national minimum standards for the treatment of detained minors.


It remains a tragedy that a court had to direct the government to do what basic human decency and the law clearly require.”
Neha Desai, National Center for Youth Law


Gee found that CBP violated the 1997 agreement by detaining children in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, failing to properly feed them, and taking too long to process them at seven sites near San Diego and Jacumba Hot Springs. Migrants detained in these OADS have waited as long as five days before being transferred to indoor lockups.


“The court’s decision to recognize CBP’s custody of children in open-air detention sites is a crucial step towards ensuring accountability and protection for vulnerable migrants,” said Lilian Serrano, director of Southern Border Communities Coalition, a case plaintiff.


“There are minimum standards that must be followed if CBP will be detaining families, children, and other people,” Serrano added. “We are pleased to see the federal court acknowledge this fundamental truth. Now we expect the agency to comply with the court’s order immediately.”


As the number of migrants entering the United States without authorization has surged during President Joe Biden’s tenure, U.S. border authorities have forced migrants—including people legally seeking asylum—into OADS, where they face what case plaintiff National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) called “profoundly inhumane conditions.”


NCYL said migrant children are “forced to take shelter from harsh rain and wind in porta-potties, burn toxic brush and garbage to stay warm, and survive on nothing more than a granola bar and a bottle of water each day.”


Neha Desai, NCYL’s senior director of immigration, called Gee’s ruling “a tremendous victory for children at open-air detention sites.”


“But it remains a tragedy that a court had to direct the government to do what basic human decency and the law clearly require,” Desai added. “We expect CBP to comply with the court’s order swiftly, and we remain committed to holding CBP accountable for meeting the most rudimentary needs of children in their legal custody, including food, shelter, and basic medical care.”


A 2023 report on conditions at the Jacumba Hot Springs site published by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) at the University of California San Diego found that all of the migrants held at the site said border agents did not give them enough food and over half said they did not get enough water for the day. All migrants interviewed also said they were deprived of adequate sanitation like toilets and proper shelter and shade structures.


Another report published last year revealed a “shocking pattern” of abuse of migrants and some American citizens perpetrated by Department of Homeland Security personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years under both the Trump and Biden administrations.



Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams