Court Filing Challenges Biden Admin over Detention of Migrant Children in Outdoor Camps

Detained migrant children (Randy Clark/Breitbart Texas)
Randy Clark/Breitbart Texas

Several human rights groups are asking a federal judge to enforce the terms of an existing court settlement that establishes minimum standards for the treatment of children in federal immigration custody. In a Thursday court filing, the groups assert the Biden administration violated the existing terms of the settlement by detaining migrant children in outdoor camps in California, sometimes for days, in unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), and Children’s Rights are asking the judge to order the Department of Homeland Security to cease detaining migrant children in open-air detention sites (OAD) and, among other actions, to document the circumstances of any detention of migrant children in OAD’s that exceed two hours from the first encounter with the agency.

In the court filing, the groups are citing the terms of a 1993 Supreme Court case, Reno v. Flores, regarding the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children while in immigration detention. The case stemmed from the 1985 detention of an El Salvadoran unaccompanied migrant child, Jenny Lissette Flores, by the then Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The new filing by NCYL and CHRCL, who brought the class action suit on behalf of Flores, is now asking the judge in the Flores case to enforce the agreement and block any detention actions by DHS that do not meet the settlement standards.

The motion to enforce describes conditions in Jacumba and San Ysidro, California, where migrant children are led by CBP personnel to outdoor processing sites to await transportation. The detention times in those outdoor encampments can range from hours to days, according to the filing. The groups assert the open-air sites lack adequate hygiene facilities, medical staff, food, or shelter and do not provide sufficient security for the migrant children.

In a press release announcing the action, Neha Desai, senior director of immigration at NCYL, stated:

For at least a year now, children have been held in these egregious conditions for varying lengths of time; there is no reason to believe the situation will resolve on its own. Without lifesaving support that volunteers provide, who knows how many children’s lives would be lost? But it is the responsibility of the government, not humanitarian volunteers, to ensure that these children’s most basic needs are met.

The record-breaking migrant surge under the Biden administration has overwhelmed the ability of the Border Patrol to transport, process, and detain large migrant groups routinely crossing the border in Jacumba and San Ysidro. The phenom exists in many other locations across the southwest border where open air detention sites exist. In Lukeville, Arizona, and parts of Texas, the sites are hastily set up as surges in crossings appear and detention capacity in area facilities becomes overcrowded.

As reported by Breitbart Texas, in Lukeville, Arizona, migrants camp for days along the border wall in the Organ Pipe National Monument. In Eagle Pass, Texas, more than 1,000 migrants were routinely held outdoors in December as they awaited detention space to become available at a nearby soft-sided processing facility. In 2021, nearly 30,000 mostly Haitian migrants crossed into Del Rio, Texas. The daily crossings quickly overwhelmed the Border Patrol and caused thousands of migrants to remain in an open-air detention site for weeks. The migrants constructed shelters from tarps, tents, and cardboard along the bank of the Rio Grande to take cover from the weather.

A source within Customs and Border Protection told Breitbart Texas the open-air detention sites are the only alternative available when migrant crossings remain at historic levels. The source, not authorized to speak to the media says “this is the new norm under this administration. We were never funded or equipped to handle more than two million migrants crossing each year.”

“When the spikes occur, they are concentrated in just a few areas along the southern border,” the source continued. “When you are out of buses or detention space, you’re done.”

The source says the volume of crossings eliminated the ability to detain migrants according to agency policy. The policy requires migrant children to be detained separately from unrelated adults in a setting that provides adequate access to medical care and meals. The CBP detention policy requires all migrant children to be transferred to Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours of arrest. The latest court filings and evidence on the ground show that this is not always happening.

According to CBP, in TY 2020, President Donald Trump’s last full year in office, 30,557 unaccompanied migrant children were encountered at the southwest border. In 2021, under the Biden administration, that number climbed to nearly 145,000, an increase of nearly 400 percent. Between 2021 and January 2024, 468,396 unaccompanied migrant children were apprehended by the Border Patrol. The class members in the latest court filing also includes migrant children who are accompanied by family members.

Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol.  Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.