Earlier this week, the Trump administration argued before federal judges that it shouldn’t be required to provide soap and toothbrushes to immigrant children in U.S. custody, and that it should be allowed to make those children sleep on concrete floors in cold, overcrowded cells.
According to Courthouse News Service (CNS), the Trump Department of Justice (DOJ) took the position that it did not violate the Flores Settlement of 1997 — which required minors fleeing Central America be kept in “safe and sanitary” facilities while in U.S. custody — when depriving them of basic hygienic products like soap and toothbrushes.
Tuesday’s court hearing stemmed from the DOJ challenging a previous assertion by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, of Los Angeles, who said the administration violated the Flores Settlement when an independent monitor appointed by the court found that immigrant children had not been given soap or toothbrushes. The Trump DOJ’s argument was that because the Flores Settlement didn’t specifically name toothbrushes and soap as items that must be provided, that there was no violation.
9th Circuit judges Marsha Berzon and William Fletcher were both incredulous at the administration’s argument, according to CNS. The judges also reminded the administration’s lawyers that some of the conditions immigrant children are enduring include sleeping on concrete floors.
“Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?” Judge Fletcher asked, adding that he would “find it inconceivable” that the government would argue that such conditions met the “safe and sanitary” part of the Flores Settlement.
DOJ lawyer Sarah Fabian asserted that the settlement not mentioning soap and toothbrushes “was left that way and not enumerated by the parties because either the parties couldn’t reach agreement on how to enumerate that or it was left to the agencies to determine.”
“Or it was relatively obvious,” Judge Fletcher responded. “And at least obvious enough so that if you’re putting people into a crowded room to sleep on a concrete floor with an aluminum-foil blanket on top of them that it doesn’t comply with the agreement.”
“It wasn’t perfumed soap, it was soap. That’s part of ‘safe and sanitary.’ Are you disagreeing with that?” Fletcher said.
The argument over providing immigrant children with hygienic products comes not long after the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) published a report finding immigrants in U.S. custody were being kept in horrendous conditions.
The OIG report claimed that in one cell meant for just 12 detainees, there were 76 detainees crammed inside. Another cell meant for eight contained 41 people. It also claimed that some detainees had been wearing the same clothes for days, or even weeks at a time. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) tweeted photos from a border facility in Texas that appeared to confirm those findings.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to the immigrant detention centers as “concentration camps,” pointing out that experts who have studied genocide define concentration camps as facilities in which large groups of civilians are kept against their will without trial.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.