Migrant children detained by the US government must have access to soap, toothpaste and places to sleep, a panel of judges has ruled.
The administration had contended that detained immigrant children, who are required to be provided with “safe and sanitary” conditions, didn’t need basic hygiene products.
The ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco tossed out the government’s challenge to a lower court’s findings that authorities had failed to provide safe and sanitary conditions for the children in line with a 1997 agreement widely known as the Flores settlement.
The government argued that authorities weren’t required to provide specific accommodations under the settlement, such as soap, and asked the panel to weigh in.
A Trump administration lawyer tried to argue the point in June, saying the agreement was vague and might not require that a toothbrush and soap be provided to children during brief stays in custody.
The appellate judges disagreed, writing: “Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep deprived are without doubt essential to the children’s safety.”
Leecia Welch, senior director of legal advocacy and child welfare at the National Center for Youth Law, said the panel’s ruling wasn’t surprising. “It should shock the conscience of all Americans to know that our government argued children do not need these bare essentials,” she said.
A message seeking comment was sent to the Department of Justice.
The US district court judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles ruled in 2017 that authorities had breached the agreement after young immigrants caught on the border said they had to sleep in cold, overcrowded cells and were given inadequate food and dirty water.
Since then, problems in the facilities have persisted. Gee has appointed an independent monitor to evaluate conditions.
The issues date back years. They have drawn increased attention amid a rise in the number of children and families, mostly from Central America, arriving on the south-west border.
But the issue has intensified in recent months as the Trump administration has faced fierce criticism over the state of detention facilities where immigrants are being held. In August, a human rights attorney described “inhuman” conditions while visiting a Texas detention center that amounted to an “emergency public health crisis”.
The Flores settlement between advocates for young immigrants and the US government says children should be held in facilities that meet certain standards and released as soon as is reasonably possible, which has been considered to be about 20 days.