Judges rule migrant children must get soap and bedding

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Detained migrant children must be given soap, dry clothes and clean bedding, United States (US) federal judges ruled on Thursday, dismissing an appeal by the Trump administration.

The ruling by three judges at San Francisco’s federal appeals court follows reports of severe overcrowding and disease-ridden cells at US detention centres.

A surge of Central American migrants has overwhelmed US immigration services, leading to multi-pronged controversial efforts by US President Donald Trump’s administration to stem the flow, resulting in court challenges.

The panel found that basic hygiene items and adequate sleeping arrangements were essential under a 1997 law requiring “safe and sanitary” facilities.

In doing so, they upheld an earlier ruling by a lower court which found the government was in breach of its obligations by failing to provide these.

The Department of Homeland Security had appealed that ruling, arguing that the “safe and sanitary” law did not specify that any of these items be provided.

“We emphatically disagree,” the judges said in their judgment.

“Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep deprived are without doubt essential to the children’s safety,” they wrote.

The lower court ruling in 2017 was right to require such conditions “rather than allowing the government to decide whether to provide them,” they found.

Immigrants play football at the US government’s newest holding centre for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas. A panel of judges has dismissed an appeal by the US government that contended detained immigrant children might necessarily require soap for shorter stints in custody under a longstanding settlement agreement. PHOTO: AP