Editorial: Access to detention centers has been proven necessary; we shouldn’t try to end it

Minors lie inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in Donna, Texas, March 30, 2021. (Dario Lopez-Mills/AP Photo/Pool)
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The Biden administration on May 10 filed a motion asking that court supervision of its detention centers for immigrant children be terminated. The need for such supervision has been proven countless times. Even if it hadn’t been, the possibility that Donald Trump, and his known hostility toward immigrants, will return to the White House makes such a move premature.

The policy Biden seeks to end, known as the Flores agreement, is not linked to Trump, or to Biden; it is the settlement of a lawsuit nearly 30 years ago that sought to address lengthy detention of immigrant children, often without adult relatives and without access to education or medical services.

As has been made abundantly clear over the past decade, those abuses continue — and perhaps are even worse now than they were when the settlement was reached in 1997.

Flores mandates that children be released to their family, guardian or welfare program without delay. Those who couldn’t were to be turned over to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours of their detention.

The administration’s filing states that the agreement’s goals are being met and it’s no longer necessary. If that were true there would be no need for the court to do anything.

Even before Trump took office, thousands of children were being separated from their parents or family members at the border and detained for months — in some cases even years. Many of them still haven’t been reunited with their families, and the administration has admitted that poor records have left them unable to link children with their relatives. The arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors has only made conditions worse.

We know this because the agreement gives advocates and attorneys for immigrant children access to detention facilities in order to monitor conditions and ensure that the children’s needs are being met. That is one of the provisions the Biden administration specifically wants to end.

Transparency and public oversight traditionally have been a hallmark of our country’s efforts to keep government as honest and accountable to the people as possible. Unfortunately, it is constantly under attack from government officials who chafe under the scrutiny.

That scrutiny is especially important regarding the treatment of immigrants and especially children, who are among the most vulnerable people in our society and who most need someone to help ensure that their basic needs are being met.

We must remember that fact, and start looking as migrant children as human beings with rights and needs — not as pawns in partisan political gamesmanship.

A return of Trump to the presidency makes the prospect of losing the conditions of this agreement more concerning. During his campaign he already has said he plans to impose even more severe anti-immigration policies than he practiced during his first term.

If the conditions of the Flores agreement were being met, that fact would be self-evident and the administration wouldn’t have to ask to be released of its constraints. The fact that they irk officials so much is proof that they’re still needed — perhaps more now than ever.