The Trump Administration Claims It’s Not Legally Required to Give Detained Kids Soap and Blankets

A Department of Justice lawyer argued that unsanitary conditions are still technically “safe and sanitary.”

While the Trump administration has been holding more and more migrants in camps along the US-Mexico border, relatively few details have come out about the conditions inside. But an Associated Press report this week changed that, with lawyers and human rights activists describing children held in unsanitary, shocking conditions at one facility near El Paso:

The New York Times followed with even more details:

The Times also reports that other lawyers have found similar conditions in at least six other detention sites.

Also this week, a lawyer representing the Department of Justice argued before Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the administration was not required to provide detained children with soap, toothbrushes, and blankets, despite a 1997 settlement establishing that migrant minors in federal custody be kept in “safe and sanitary” conditions. Judge A. Wallace Tashima, one of three judges presiding, asked lawyer Sarah Fabian, “If you don’t have a toothbrush, if you don’t have soap, if you don’t have a blanket, it’s not safe and sanitary. Wouldn’t everybody agree to that?”

In another exchange, Judge Marsha Berzon asked, “But you’re really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn’t a question of safe and sanitary conditions?”

“Any number of things might fall under those categories,” Fabian replied. She added, “I think the concern there, your honor, is the court-finding that sleep, for example, is relevant to a finding of safe and sanitary conditions is one thing. But the ultimate conclusion is ‘safe and sanitary’ is a singular category to the agreement. And it was, one has to assume, left that way and not enumerated by the parties because either the parties couldn’t reach an agreement on how to enumerate that, or that it was left to the agencies to determine.”

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