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Judge rules federal government violated Flores settlement

A California-based federal court judge ruled the government must get parental consent before giving psychotropic drugs to detained immigrant children. The July 31 order sided with advocates for the detained children and laid out a number of specific expectations for their treatment while in government-run detention centers.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee agreed with advocates who argued the government centers violated a 1997 settlement which details the treatment of immigrant children while in government custody.

The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and the National Center for Youth Law, both California-based organizations, argued treatment in the detention centers violated the Flores settlement. The University of California Davis Immigration Law Clinic also joined the plaintiffs’ legal counsel.

Administration of psychotropic drugs

Much of the coverage of this ruling focused on the order to seek parental consent prior to giving children psychotropic drugs. The ruling states, “Even when a child may truly benefit from psychotropics, both the law and common decency demand that parents decide whether their child should be medicated.”

Detained children testified to feeling a variety of side effects from the drugs, including weight gain, mood changes, dizziness and nausea according to court filings. Some also reported forceful administration of the medications and receiving doses multiple times per day.

Additional impacts of the ruling

Beyond the consent order, the ruling also stipulates the government can’t continue to detain youths on the suspicion that a guardian or custodian may be unfit to provide care upon the child’s release. The Flores settlement only contends that a custodian need not pose a risk of harm or neglect to a child in order to justify release.

This ruling redefined standards for the treatment of youths detained in government centers in accordance with the Flores settlement. In her ruling, Judge Gee emphasized the government’s failure to hold youths in the least restrictive way and the lack of due process afforded to detained migrant children.

Additionally, the government must explain to children in written form why they are in detention centers. The government also can’t detain a youth only on the suspicion of gang involvement.

The issues surrounding the detention of migrant children in the U.S. are far from fully resolved. As immigration lawyers and advocates continue to fight for the rights of immigrant youths and adults, it’s important to keep up-to-date with the court rulings pertaining to any number of issues moving forward.

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  • American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • State Bar of California | California Board of Legal Specialization
  • Avvo
  • Orange County Bar Association
  • Irvine Chamber