JUDGE ORDERS GOVERNMENT TO STOP HOLDING CHILDREN IN HOTELS
The judge overseeing the landmark Flores case that has protected the rights of immigrant children for two decades has ordered an end to the government’s controversial practice of holding children in hotel rooms before returning them to their home countries.
In July, the Associated Press learned that children as young as 1 were being held in hotels in Arizona and Texas under the supervision of adults not trained in child care. Under the Flores settlement agreement, migrant children are supposed to be sent to government shelters and eventually placed in the care of a family member or other suitable sponsor. But the Trump administration has been completely circumventing this process.
Early on in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order that allows the government to rapidly “expel” people – including children – rather than keep them in U.S. custody, where they may appear before an immigration judge. Since then, the practice became widespread, The New York Times reported last month, with about 900 migrants, most of them minors, detained in hotels across San Diego; Phoenix; McAllen, Texas; El Paso, Texas; Miami; Los Angeles; and Seattle.
On Aug. 14, attorneys representing the children challenged this practice in the Flores case, arguing that it violates the spirit of the settlement agreement, which requires that children be placed in facilities licensed in residential child care. In her Sept. 4 ruling, Judge Dolly Gee also noted that the children’s ability to access legal services, a Flores requirement, while held in hotels is "woefully inadequate."
"Defendants cannot seriously argue in good faith that flouting their contractual obligation to place minors in licensed programs is necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," she wrote in her order.
Read Gee’s ruling here.
3 THINGS WE’RE READING
1. Farmworkers appear to be among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis, with at least 6,700 testing positive since the start of the pandemic. (Politico)
An analysis by Politico found that counties with the highest production of crops in the U.S. are among areas with the highest per-capita rates of infection. But the Trump administration has failed to implement federal safety requirements that would protect farmworkers from the virus, and only eight states have “some form of mandated protections for farmworkers including access to testing, hand-washing stations, social distancing and education.”
The kicker: The pandemic’s impact on farmworkers underscores how a worst-case scenario can develop when an essential but extremely vulnerable workforce is ignored. The Trump administration has repeatedly declined to impose mandatory safety requirements for agricultural workplaces. No federal assistance has been designated to help farmers obtain personal protective gear for their laborers, like it has for other essential workers like nurses and police officers. The Trump administration has largely left state and local governments to fend for themselves in addressing coronavirus. Yet critics say that state officials have also failed to adequately confront the virus.
2. A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to provide mental health services to separated migrant families. Only 200 have accepted help. (Miami Herald)
In the wake of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown that separated thousands of children from their parents at the border in 2018, attorneys representing the families filed a federal lawsuit that sought to require the government to provide mental health services to these families. Judge John A. Kronstadt sided with the attorneys and ordered the government in November to provide services to the families. But nearly a year since the ruling, only 200 out of roughly 2,300 parents and children have begun treatment. Seneca Family of Agencies, the nonprofit connecting families to services, said the stigma of mental health, combined with the COVID-19 crisis and challenges of locating class members, has hampered its efforts to help families.
The kicker: The nightmares and flashbacks are still there. Before bed, the migrant mother of two triple-checks that the doors and windows in her home are locked as painful memories make their nightly rounds: It was around 1 a.m., Maria recounted in a phone interview from her Orlando home. She and her 5-year-old daughter were sleeping side by side in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection jail cell days after the two had journeyed from El Salvador and illegally crossed the Texas border. “They woke her up and just took her – snatched her,” Maria said of the 2018 incident when Customs agents took her daughter. “I never saw her again until two months later.” She paused to hold back tears: “You just can’t erase them, the memories. I always worry that my kids will be taken in the middle of the night.”
3. The youngest person to die from COVID-19 in Florida is a 6-year-old Honduran girl who had recently sought asylum with her mother at the U.S. border. (Tampa Bay Times)
A year ago, 6-year-old Astrid and her mother fled their native Honduras, sought refuge at the U.S. border and settled in the Tampa Bay area in Florida. She was looking forward to starting the first grade. But on the morning of Aug. 16, Astrid had a seizure and died a few days later at a local hospital. The medical examiner later would confirm she was positive for COVID-19. “It’s very difficult to believe that she is no longer with us,” said her mother, Suny Galindo.
The kicker: Galindo said it is hard to believe that her daughter was infected with COVID-19. She said Astrid was healthy the whole week until the emergency. She had no temperature, skin rash or other symptoms related to COVID-19. But Astrid tested positive, according to the summary of an investigative report from the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office. The report indicates Astrid suffered a bilateral pulmonary edema and two internal hemorrhages. She would have turned 7 (this month).
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– Laura C. Morel