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Judge Says Detained Immigrant Women, Children Should Be Released

A federal judge has ruled that hundreds of women and children who were detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border should be released because their detention violates a 1997 court settlement that prohibits minors from being held in unlicensed, secure facilities.

The Associated Press reports that: "The decision Friday by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California is a victory for the immigrant rights lawyers who brought the case, but its immediate implications for detainees were not yet clear. The ruling upholds a tentative decision Gee made in April, and comes a week after the two sides told her that they failed to reach a new settlement agreement as she'd asked for."

The judge on Friday gave the government 90 days to show why the mothers and children should remain in detention.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement should "[release] class members without unnecessary delay in first order of preference to a parent, including a parent who either was apprehended with a class member or presented herself or himself with a class member," Gee wrote her decision as reported by The Los Angeles Times.

Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and one of the attorneys who brought the suit, is quoted by the AP as saying: "They are holding children in unsafe facilities. It's that simple."

"It's intolerable, it's inhumane, and it needs to end, and end sooner rather than later," Schey said after the ruling.

The Times notes:

"The ruling is a major setback for Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who established the family detention facilities after the U.S.-Mexico border saw a significant influx of children and their parents — most from Central America who illegally crossed the Southwest border — last summer.

"ICE officials are still reviewing the court's ruling to "determine appropriate next steps," a spokeswoman for the agency said."

"We are disappointed with the court's decision and are reviewing it in consultation with the Department of Justice," said Marsha Catron, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, was quoted by The New York Times as saying. She said officials would respond to an order by the judge to present a plan by Aug. 3 for carrying out the ruling.

The website Law360.com says the 1997 case "set national standards for detention, release, treatment and housing of children detained by immigration agencies."

"Since 1997, the settlement has guaranteed migrant children 'safe and appropriate' placement during federal custody and a fair opportunity for release on bond or recognizance pending proceedings to determine whether they are lawfully entitled to the be in the U.S."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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