LOS ANGELES (AP) — A U.S. judge on Friday pushed back against the Trump administration’s new rules for the detention of immigrant children, saying they fail to honor a decades-old settlement agreement that spells out the conditions of custody.
U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee said during a hearing in Los Angeles that she didn’t see how the new rules adhered to a 1997 settlement that applies to all children — not just those caught on the U.S.-Mexico border without their parents.
“Just because you tell me it is night outside doesn’t mean it is not day,” Gee told government lawyers.
The judge also said she’s bound to apply basic contract law in the case.
The comments came during a brief but critical hearing over a push by the Trump administration to end the previous agreement amid its crackdown on asylum seekers arriving on the Southwest border.
Lawyers for detained immigrant children said Gee drafted a tentative ruling indicating she would likely block the rules from taking effect. She didn’t issue a final ruling, however, and is still weighing the case.
The attorneys argued the rules fail to honor the terms of the 1997 settlement and would let the U.S. government keep children locked up indefinitely and in facilities that aren’t licensed by the state.
They celebrated Gee’s position and said they wouldn’t let the administration use young immigrants to try to deter migrants fleeing desperate conditions from seeking asylum.
“We will continue vigorously to defend the rights of detained immigrant children,” Neha Desai, director of immigration at the National Center for Youth Law, told reporters.
The agreement allows for the settlement to be phased out when rules are issued for the care of detained immigrant children that honor its terms.
August Flentje, an attorney for the government, argued during the hearing that the rules honored the settlement and the government had spent significant time to develop them. He declined to comment afterward.
Attorneys for both sides said they would be willing to meet and discuss whether some aspects of the new rules that aren’t spelled out in the settlement might be consistent with it. Desai declined to specify what those might be.
More than 400,000 immigrants traveling in family groups with children have been stopped on the Mexico border in the past year.
In its crackdown, the Trump administration has had migrants await immigration court hearings in Mexico and required those who cross through a third country to seek refuge there before applying for asylum in the U.S.
Immigrant advocates have decried the changes, which threaten asylum for many people fleeing violence in their countries.
The Los Angeles case dates back to the 1980s, when immigrant advocates sued the government over detention conditions for immigrant youth. The settlement reached in 1997 involved standards for facilities and the release of children to relatives in the United States.