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LA Judge Rejects Trump Administration's Bid To Hold Migrant Kids Indefinitely

At the El Barretal shelter in Matamoros, Tijuana, Ruth Reyes, 5, shows her mother a new doll she was given. In Tijuana, Mexico, children members of the migrant caravan are learning to live in limbo as they move between shelters. (Photo: Peggy Peattie for LAist)
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L.A.-based federal judge Dolly Gee ruled today against the government's attempt to detain migrant children and their families indefinitely.

Gee issued a permanent injunction that blocks the Trump administration from doing away with a decades-old court order that limits how long children can be held by immigration officials.

The Trump administration had proposed a new rule it hoped to take effect next month that would vacate what's known as the Flores Settlement Agreement.

The 1997 Flores court order sets minimum standards of care for migrant children in detention centers and says they cannot be held for more than 20 days. Immigration officials say the agreement is contributing to the migrant crisis by encouraging people to cross the border with their children.

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Carlos Holguin, an immigration attorney defending the Flores agreement in court today, filed the original 1985 lawsuit that led to the consent decree. He's had to return to court repeatedly to fend off attacks on the order.

"Today the stakes were much higher because [the government] was trying to end the agreement entirely," Holguin told us.

The attorney for the Justice Department, August Flentje, declined to comment for this story.

Holguin expected the government to appeal the decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and likely, the U.S. Supreme Court.

An emailed statement from a Department of Justice spokesman said the agency "is disappointed that the court is continuing to impose the outdated Flores Agreement even after the government has done exactly what the Agreement required: issue a comprehensive rule that will protect vulnerable children, maintain family unity, and ensure due process for those awaiting adjudication of their immigration claims."

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Immigration attorney Carlos Holguin outside the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Holguin said Gee's ruling means "that children who arrive in the United States as part of family units will still have a right to be released to their other relatives who might be in the United States and are available to take care of them and that the government must offer these children a placement in a facility that is state-licensed."

During today's hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Gee held testy exchanges with Flentje, who argued that the proposed rule addressed the issue of detaining children and families "in a nuanced way."

Gee asked how he, "an officer of the court," could tell her that a rule to detain children indefinitely was consistent with the Flores Agreement.

She said to Flentje: Just because you tell me it's night outside doesn't mean it's not day.

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Carlos Holguin was asked by Gee if he wanted to speak after Flentje was done. He declined at first, saying, "It's day out" --- a callback to Gee's night-and-day comment.

Gee repeatedly referred to the Flores Agreement as a contract that the government had entered into and that she was applying "basic contract law" in her ruling.

She said the language was clear -- the agreement referred to all minors, "no if's, and's or but's."

Last year, Gee denied the Trump administration's attempt to change the Flores Agreement to allow for long-term detention of families.

3:50 p.m. This story has been updated with a statement from the Department of Justice.

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