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U.S. judge orders migrant children to be released from hotel detention

President Donald Trump’s administration must stop detaining migrant children in hotels, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security must cease placing children in hotels by Sept. 15, Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles decided. She also ordered the department to “transfer all minors — both accompanied and unaccompanied — currently held in hotels to licensed facilities.”

The ruling was part of the court’s oversight of 1997’s so-called Flores agreement between the federal government and immigrant rights’ attorneys, which dictates a 20-day maximum detention period for undocumented children encountered at the border.

It followed a New York Times report in mid-August that found the Trump administration “has detained at least 860 migrants at a Quality Suites in San Diego, Hampton Inns in Phoenix, McAllen and El Paso, Texas, a Comfort Suites Hotel in Miami, a Best Western in Los Angeles and an Econo Lodge in Seattle.”

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The detentions of migrants marked for deportation included children as young as 1, the report said. Hotel stays mean the migrants were overseen by private security and weren’t subject to “policies designed to prevent abuse in federal custody,” according to the report.

The National Center for Youth Law said 650 immigrant children were held in motels by the federal government between April and July before being expelled, according to a statement.

Rapid expulsions, enacted in March and facilitated in part by the hotel stays, were intended to mitigate exposure to coronavirus.

Gee wrote that children have been held in hotels for “multiple days.” She said she was made aware of the practice “of using hotels to temporarily house accompanied and unaccompanied minors pending their expulsion” on July 22.

The judge said in her filing that the government’s concerns about COVID-19 were “no excuse for DHS to skirt the fundamental humanitarian protections that the Flores Agreement guarantees for minors in their custody, especially when there is no persuasive evidence that hoteling is safer than licensed facilities.”

The ruling made a hotel-stay exception for “one to two-night stays while in transit or prior to flights” and said children must be placed in a licensed facility within 72 hours of detention or arrest.

The National Center for Youth Law called the ruling a “huge win” in a statement Friday night.

“The Court held that the federal government cannot continue to place or hold immigrant children in unmonitored and unlicensed motels for weeks on end before expelling them from the United States, affirming they should not be ‘left in a legal no man’s land, where no enforceable standards apply,'” it said.

Image: Dennis RomeroDennis Romero

Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.

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