The federal judge who has enforced a longstanding requirement that migrant children be released from detention within 20 days seems to have turned philosophical. That ruling (which could be overridden by Congress, if Congress were capable of doing anything useful) has served as a magnet for both unaccompanied children, and the surge of family units entering the country illegally.
Where U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee summarily rejected Trump administration efforts to flex the rules as “Kafkaesque” in 2019, she passes off the current crush at overwhelmed detention facilities as a dinner party with too many guests.
Amid record numbers of unaccompanied minors entering the country, and more languishing in detention-center limbo, Judge Gee’s newly adopted laissez-faire detachment is an ironic absurdity that Franz Kafka would surely appreciate.
Five months after the Biden administration declared an emergency and raced to set up shelters to house children, the system is swamped. U.S. border authorities reported more than 18,000 encounters with unaccompanied alien minors in July, up 24 percent from June. As of August, the Department of Health and Human Services had nearly 15,000 children in its care, but only 11,000 licensed shelter beds available.
At one venue – a 1,000-bed facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas – a care worker is supposed to be assigned for every eight children, and each child is entitled to a weekly counseling session. Child welfare advocates say the standards are not being met, and that the 20-day limit is regularly exceeded.
In a vast understatement, Judge Gee recently observed, “The infrastructure is not set up for tens of thousands of people coming in at one time. Somehow the paradigm has to shift to figure out how to deal with these types of numbers.” Indeed. Many of the problems she alludes to have been exacerbated by her decisions.
Though setting immigration policy is above Judge Gee’s pay grade, she does have the authority, and the responsibility, to ensure that her rulings are enforced, and enforceable. A court hearing on the Carrizo Springs situation is scheduled for Oct. 1, giving her an opportunity to revisit the consent decree she oversees, and to show if she is still serious about it.