Court says detained children must have soap, toothbrushes

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Thursday dismissed a Trump administration argument that “safe and sanitary” conditions do not specifically require access to items such as soap and toothbrushes, as well as adequate sleep for children in custody at Border Patrol stations.

A three-judge panel for the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court had the right to specify what “safe and sanitary” conditions were required.

The lower court ordered the government to provide specific hygiene items, as well as directing the government to hire a “juvenile coordinator.”

“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,” Thursday’s ruling states.

The appeals court upheld the lower court decision to require such conditions, rather than allow the government to decide whether to provide them.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the case.

The case gained notoriety after oral arguments in June, when a Justice Department attorney said that “some of those things may not be required,” when asked about the need for toothpaste, a toothbrush, and soap. The judges grilled her at the time and suggested access to such basic hygiene and the ability to sleep are clearly safe and sanitary.

Video of the court hearing went viral and caused outrage. DOJ later said that the attorney received death threats.

The appeal is part of the decades-old Flores settlement, a court agreement that sets nationwide policy for the detention and treatment of minors in immigration custody. In May 2016, the plaintiffs asked the district court to enforce the agreement, arguing that the government was in violation of the agreement by detaining minors in unsanitary and unsafe conditions at Border Patrol stations.

The Justice Department’s appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

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