Nation & World

In plea to reverse detention ruling, Obama lawyers warn of wave of family border crossings

Federal officials have not given up yet on family detention. They warned a judge Friday that her ruling against detaining migrant mothers and children could lead to another surge of migrant families attempting to enter the country illegally if they believe their children are the key to avoiding detention.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Central California ruled last month that the Obama administration’s family detention policy violates an 18-year-old court settlement regarding the detention of migrant children. She said the hundreds of detained parents and children should be released.

Department of Justice lawyers responded to the ruling Friday asking her to reconsider her decision. Benjamin Mizer, principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a briefing that the judge’s order had significant policy consequences. The ruling could be understood to require Homeland Security officials to release “all families” into the United States even if they have no legitimate claims to remain just because it takes the government longer than the three to five days allotted to process and remove them, he said.

“The Court’s proposed remedy – to the extent that it eliminates the Government’s ability to use expedited removal or reinstated orders of removal for families under any circumstances – could cause another notable increase in the numbers of parents choosing to cross the border with their children.” Mizer wrote.

Judge Gee’s July 24 ruling delivered a significant blow to the Obama administration’s policy of detaining mothers and children who say they’re fleeing violence in their home countries. In a 25-page ruling, Gee said she found it “astonishing” that immigration authorities had adopted a policy requiring such an expensive infrastructure without more evidence that it would be compliant with the decades old agreement.

The administration detains about 1,700 parents and children at three family detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, and in Berks County, Pa.

The facilities have been the subject of intense public and media scrutiny. There have been allegations of poor conditions and sexual abuse. But Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials say the detainees are well cared for. The facilities have playgrounds, playrooms and televisions.

The administration has responded to the scrutiny by reining in the program, which Justice lawyers cited in their court documents.