The Trump administration has had no shame treating migrant families, and children specifically, in dehumanizing ways and as political pawns, but even this seems like a new low.
Appearing before a Ninth Circuit panel on Tuesday, the administration argued that it isn’t required to give the basic necessities of soap or toothbrushes to migrant children who are detained after entering the U.S., and that they’re allowed to let the children sleep on concrete floors in freezing, crowded cells, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The administration was appealing a federal judge’s June 2017 ruling that they violated the 1997 Flores settlement, which establishes guidelines for child detention, including a right to a bond hearing, timely release to parents or guardians, and “safe and sanitary” standards within detention.
According to Courthouse News, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of Los Angeles found that a Texas detention center violated the settlement by not providing adequate food, clean drinking water, or soap, toothbrushes, and towels to detained children. Gee also concluded that children were “deprived of sleep and access to bathrooms, and were subjected to near-freezing temperatures.”
The panel of judges, like any reasonable people, seemed to be dumbfounded by immigration officials’ lack of responsibility, and responded accordingly.
“It’s within everybody’s common understanding that if you don’t have a toothbrush, you don’t have soap, you don’t have a blanket, those are not safe and sanitary,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima told Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian, the Chronicle reported.
More judges’ reasonably stunned reactions, from Courthouse News:
“You’re really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn’t a question of safe and sanitary conditions?’” U.S. Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon asked the Justice Department’s Sarah Fabian Tuesday.
U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher also questioned the government’s interpretation of the settlement agreement.
“Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?” Fletcher asked Fabian. “I find that inconceivable that the government would say that that is safe and sanitary.”
Fabian, the DOJ attorney, told the panel that a toothbrush, soap, and comfortable sleeping conditions “may” be part of what the Flores settlement considers “safe and sanitary” depending on how long the child is in detention. However, she said that Gee, in her June 2017 ruling, had “expanded the terms of the agreement.”
She also argued that there are “challenges in interpreting a very old agreement” that existed before the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. God, no one wants to deal with the “past” these days, huh?
Regardless of the excuse, the judges have reason to be be incredulous. As a lawyer for the nonprofit Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law told the panel, at least six children have died in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody, while another toddler died from complications stemming from pneumonia last year just weeks after being released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
This is how transparent the Trump administration’s strides to withhold basic human needs from migrant children are becoming—these facilities are concentration camps, no matter how long this dumb argument goes on.