One thousand of the tens of thousands of children and "family units" taken into custody during last year's border surge from Central America could be freed this month on a judge's order, The Guardian reports.
The children and mothers are being held in three detention facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania. A federal judge has given a deadline of May 24 for immigration officials and attorneys for the children to reach an agreement or all 1,000 could immediately be set free.
Lawyers representing the children say their long-term confinement violates child protection laws.
According to The Guardian, complaints about the Pennsylvania facility include a guard having sex with one of the mothers and allegations of poor medical treatment; a mother and her children being placed in "solitary confinement" overnight; and inadequate treatment for severe depression among the children.
No one involved in the talks would comment to The Guardian, citing Judge Dolly Gee.
"This shows that the administration has no respect for the law and is intent on detaining individuals until it can deport them regardless of the consequences," Bryan Johnson, an immigration law specialist in Bay Shore, New York, told The Guardian. "This is particularly troublesome when the administration is willing to harm children for the political motivation of keeping a secure border."
President Barack Obama has been under pressure from the right to stem the tide of illegal immigrants from Central American countries. Children could be seen in photographs riding atop freight trains through Mexico before they crossed into the United States.
Parents often paid people to smuggle their children from the poverty and drug crime in their home countries in hopes of reuniting them with family members in the United States. But there were reports of many of them being killed or sold into prostitution before reaching the U.S. border.
Fears of disease also sparked concern, and critics of Obama blamed the president for policies that made the parents of the children believe they would not be deported if they made it into the United States.
Mothers being detained in the Pennsylvania center wrote to immigration authorities last month, asking for relief. Many had been held for the maximum 13 months, the letter said, "and we think that this confinement is an injustice because we are not delinquents, much less criminals."
They asked officials to consider "the psychological state of the kids as a result of confinement."
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman told The Guardian that the center is an "open environment" allowing "free movement throughout the grounds during daylight hours."
Medical care was provided, the spokeswoman said, adding that the room the families compared to solitary confinement was "only used for medical reasons" and was "never used for disciplinary reasons — the door does not lock."
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