A federal judge in Texas ordered the U.S. to stop detaining immigrant children in hotels before expelling them from the country. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee said on Friday the much-criticized practice skirted “fundamental humanitarian protections.”
The judge ruled that the use of hotels as long-term detention spaces violates a decades old settlement governing the treatment of immigrant children in custody. The judge ordered border agencies to stop placing children in hotels by Sept. 15 and to remove children from hotels as soon as possible.
The government “cannot seriously argue in good faith that flouting their contractual obligation to place minors in licensed programs is necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Gee wrote.
So far 148,000 migrants have been removed from America since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March by immigration agencies at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump and his administration have said that undocumented immigrants threaten the safety of Americans and must be removed. In order to prevent migrants from being allowed to stay, the president’s people have taken at least 577 unaccompanied children to hotels since March, where they are detained and then typically placed on deportation flights.
Most of the children have been placed in Hampton Inn & Suites hotels, including two in Texas and one in Arizona, according to USA Today. The move to the hotels is a substitute for shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, where the children get legal services, education and the chance to be placed with relatives living in the U.S. Those facilities are licensed by the states where they are located. More than 13,000 beds in those shelters are currently empty, according to USA Today.
The judge’s order mandates that the administration must send the children, both those unaccompanied by an adult and those who crossed the border with their adults, back to the shelters.
The Trump administration has not commented on the judge's order.