Monday, January 27, 2020

Philip G. Schrag's "Baby Jails"

Philip G. Schrag is the Delaney Family Professor of Public Interest Law at Georgetown University and the author or coauthor of sixteen books, including Asylum Denied.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Baby Jails: The Fight to End the Incarceration of Refugee Children in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Baby Jails is representative of the book, which relates the 35-year history of the legal and political effort to stop the U.S. government from jailing children who have fled from persecution and torture in their home countries to seek safety in America. Page 99 deals with the first “baby jail,” the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center in Texas, a brainchild of the George W. Bush administration which was operated by a private prison company. It housed migrant mothers and children, sometimes for more than a year, while they awaited hearings on their asylum claims in overburdened immigration courts. When Barbara Hines, who directed the immigration law clinic at the University of Texas, heard about the horrific conditions for children in Hutto, she called in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The case was assigned to federal judge Sam Sparks. Page 99 describes the hard time that Sparks gave to both Vanita Gupta, the ACLU lawyer, and to Victor Lawrence, who represented ICE.

Baby Jails starts with the now-famous Flores case. Jennie Flores from El Salvador was jailed during the Reagan administration. The class action case that she brought, seeking to end the arbitrary detention of children, went to the Supreme Court in 1993, but even though the plaintiffs lost in the high court, the Flores case continues to this day. For years, the government repeatedly violated court orders in the case that the Supreme Court had left in place, and in 1997 the Clinton administration settled with the plaintiffs. Thereafter, violations of the Flores settlement agreement continued to occur. The book devotes several chapters to the battle over Hutto, the Obama administration’s closing of that facility in 2009, and its policy reversal in 2014, when it authorized two other large family detention centers. In 2015, federal courts ruled that the Flores settlement barred the government from detaining children in those centers for more than twenty days. But 50 pages toward the end of the book reveal the Trump administration’s determined efforts to overturn the Flores settlement by litigation, by asking Congress to pass a new law, and by issuing a new regulation. Frustrated by its lack of success by all of those means, it tried the tactic of separating families in 2018, which turned into what was probably the biggest domestic policy debacle of the Trump presidency.

Baby Jails is based on court records, journalistic accounts, human rights reports, and the author’s interviews with many of the people who were involved in the controversy over the years. It concludes with recommendations for humanitarian treatment of child refugees while they await hearings to assess their claims for protection.
Learn more about Baby Jails at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue