A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Tuesday appeared inclined to uphold a lower court order that gave details on the minimum necessities that must be provided to undocumented immigrant children being held by the government.
The order was issued in 2017 by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of Los Angeles, who is overseeing a 1997 agreement, known as the Flores settlement, concerning the conditions for holding immigrant children.
The settlement requires "safe and sanitary" conditions, including access to drinking water, food, toilets and adequate temperature control.
In 2017, after reviewing claims of substandard conditions, Gee ordered officials to provide soap, toothbrushes and showers and to end an alleged practice of having children sleep on concrete floors under an aluminum blanket in cold, noisy and constantly lighted rooms.
The U.S. Justice Department is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the order, claiming that it adds new requirements that go beyond the 1997 settlement.
Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian argued before a three-judge appeals panel that Gee "in fact expanded the terms of the agreement."
Immigration attorney Peter Schey, who helped to negotiate the 1997 agreement on behalf of undocumented Salvadoran teenager Jenny Flores, argued that the requirements were a reasonable interpretation of "safe and sanitary" conditions.
The panel took the case under submission and will issue a written ruling at a later date.
All three judges on the panel questioned Fabian as to why the requirements in Gee's order shouldn't be considered necessities.
Judge William Fletcher said, "If you're putting people in a crowded room to sleep on a concrete floor with an aluminum blanket on top and lights on all night long, no one could argue this is safe and sanitary."
Judge Wallace Tashima said, "It's within anyone's understanding that if you don't have a toothbrush, soap and blanket, it's not safe and sanitary."
The Flores agreement also requires that undocumented immigrant children be released to a relative or family friend or placed in a licensed care program within 20 days.
The current case is one of several legal disputes about the interpretation of the settlement that have gone through the court system.