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Children in Immigrant Detention Centers Face 'Inhumane Treatment,' Attorneys Say

Courtesy of ICE

Children should not be held in detention in the same way adults are. That’s according to a federal settlement agreement called Flores v. Reno that gives basic protections to children in government custody. Some attorneys in Texas say immigrant children in detention centers are being denied those protections.

UT Law School's Civil Rights Clinic Director RanjanaNatarajan says she and other attorneys filed a motion in federal court against immigrant detention centers in Texas this past Monday. One thing the attorneys argue is that, per Flores, keeping children in lockdown amounts to inhumane treatment.

"These are children who have never done anything wrong, and they don't pose a danger to anyone," Natarajan says.

The Flores Settlement Agreement also says facilities where children are detained need to be licensed.

There are two large family detention centers in Texas: one in Karnes City and one in Dilley. Both are run by private prison companies and not licensed by the state.

Sara Beltran and her 8-year-old daughter came to the U.S. this past summer with the wave of immigrant children from Central America. Speaking in Spanish, Beltran explains that one of the reasons why she came to the U.S. is because her daughter has brain cancer. Soon after she crossed the border, Beltran and her little girl were held in detention in Karnes.

"I wrote a letter to the authorities in Karnes asking them to take a look at my child," she says.

She got a letter back saying the staff doctor at the detention center would treat the girl. But treatment never came. And, Beltran feared without treatment, her child's life was in danger.

"I was afraid because my girl needed a specialist," she said.

Beltran's attorney secured her and her daughter’s release due to the severity of the cancer.

Natarajan says Beltran and her daughter's detention would've met the norms outlined by Flores had they been at a licensed facility.

Her hope is that, through this week's motion, a judge the motion will find detention facilities in Texas in violation of the Flores settlement agreement and force its implementation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement was contacted for this story. In a written statement, ICE officials said, "ICE does not comment on pending litigation."

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.