ARUN RATH, HOST:
The Obama administration may have to release hundreds of women and children currently detained for illegally crossing the border. Last year, the administration had opened new detention centers in Texas, following a surge of immigration from Central America. But on Friday, a federal judge ruled the nature of the detention centers are - sorry. On Friday, a federal judge ruled the nature of the detention violated court orders. Julia Preston covers immigration for The New York Times.
JULIA PRESTON: Currently, about 2,600 mothers with their children are being held in three detention centers around the country. The largest ones are in South Texas. And these are women and children who were apprehended crossing the border illegally and have been sent to these detention centers because many of them are seeking asylum in the United States. And they are going through the court process of that asylum request.
RATH: So can you explain why this judge ruled in this way against the Obama administration?
PRESTON: The judge is referring to a 1997 settlement that has governed, through all these years, the treatment of minors caught at the border who are known as unaccompanied. So these are children who came without their parents and were caught by the Border Patrol, and this settlement, which is known as Flores, has mandated the treatment of those children. Now what Judge Gee has done is say that that settlement should also apply to children who are caught with their parents.
RATH: Julia, you've read through this ruling. It sounds like there's some pretty harsh language for the administration in there.
PRESTON: This ruling, I think it's safe to say, did not go well for the administration. This judge found that the administration had broadly ignored what she calls unambiguous language in this settlement which requires the federal government to hold children in facilities that are specifically licensed to treat and care for young people that come into custody. And she also found it was not appropriate for the government to be treating mothers of children and separating out these families and treating them differently than the way that the children are treated when they come without their parents.
RATH: So does this ruling make it likely that the people held at the facilities will be released?
PRESTON: Well, it's a little hard to tell, I have to say. The language of the ruling is quite explicit that this practice that the administration has pursued with these detention centers is a violation of this settlement. The administration has now a few days until next week to come up with a plan and respond to what the judge has said. And it really does put a lot more pressure to let these families go much more quickly.
RATH: Any indication so far from the administration what their official response might be?
PRESTON: They said yesterday that they were disappointed by the ruling. I will say that in recent weeks, the pace of release from these detention centers has been much faster than over the last year. One of the big problems that arose in these centers was that these mothers had been held for nine months, 10 months, 11 months.
These are women that have come from very difficult experiences - sexual abuse, gang violence. And they're held with their small children. The average age of the children in these centers is nine years old. So there are a lot of people in those detention centers, and the administration is going to have to figure out how to respond to the terms of this ruling.
RATH: That's Julia Preston of The New York Times. Julia, thanks very much.
PRESTON: Thank you.
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