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Trump Administration Faces Lawsuit Over Detention Of Migrant Children


The U.S. government says it wants to hold migrant families in detention until their immigration cases are complete. This filing comes after a district court judge ordered minor children to be reunited with their parents within 30 days for children 5 and older, 14 days for children younger than 5. This timeline contradicts the 1997 court settlement known as Flores v. Reno that limits how long migrant children can be kept in custody and the kind of conditions in which they stay. Some of the original counsel of the Flores case announced a lawsuit against the Trump administration for violating the terms of that settlement while administering their zero tolerance policy on immigration.

We're joined now by Holly Cooper. She's the co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis, Law School and one of the lawyers who represents children in this new Flores lawsuit. Ms. Cooper, thanks so much for being with us.

HOLLY COOPER: Well, thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: DOJ filed court papers late last night saying they want to be able to detain children indefinitely with their parents and throughout the legal proceedings. How do you react to that?

COOPER: Well, our reaction to that is first that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. And what it requires is if you're going to hold an individual in civil confinement that you can't have any punitive intent. And what we're seeing here is a clear statement from the federal government that they are using this policy for one of deterrence. There's also some very, very foundational principles of the Flores settlement agreement that says there should be a presumption in favor of releasing children and that their release should happen without unnecessary delay. So we believe that actually what's happening is that with this federal court order and the Flores settlement agreement - is that it should be pushing the government to release families from detention instead of confining them.

SIMON: Are you concerned about the terms under which many children apparently are detained?

COOPER: Yes, we are. And as you know, we filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday seeking justice for these individuals, these children who were detained in residential treatment centers, secure detention facilities, that are held without due process, that are held without transparency, and that are held for prolonged periods without the government seeking to reunify them with family members that have presented themselves willing and able to care for these children.

SIMON: There have been reports, too, that some children have been medicated.

COOPER: Yes. In our lawsuit, we have declarations as well as statements from children saying that they have been medicated without consent, and some children have been forcibly medicated. And we believe this is inconsistent with the Flores settlement agreement and also inconsistent with the Constitution.

SIMON: What do you believe the government's new filing means for migrant children?

COOPER: Well, it's been clear to us that the government is trying to architect a legal system for family detention. And everything that this administration has done has pushed this goal forward. So I believe it's - the filing means that they are pushing for modern-day internment camps. And yesterday's filing is - explicitly states that they are seeking to endeavor to detain children with their families, which we believe violates the Constitution and the explicit terms of the Flores settlement agreement.

SIMON: Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis, Law School, thank you so much for being with us.

COOPER: Thank you for having me, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.