SAN FRANCISCO - The Trump administration said Tuesday that detained young migrants may not necessarily need soap and toothbrushes for shorter stays.
Sarah Fabian, senior litigation counsel for the Department of Justice, appeared before a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco regarding a longstanding settlement agreement requiring sanitary conditions for detained migrant children. She argued that the agreement doesn’t list items that must be provided in border facilities.
“To me it’s more like it’s within everybody’s common understanding: 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,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima told Fabian. “Wouldn’t everybody agree to that? Would you agree to that?”
"There's fair reason to find those things may be part of safe and sanitary," Fabian told the panel during the exchange over the conditions in facilities for immigrant children caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
“What are you saying, ‘may be?’” Tashima responded. “You mean, there’s circumstances when a person doesn’t need to have a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap? For days?”
Fabian said possibly for shorter term stays.
The hearing focused on the U.S. government's appeal of a federal judge's 2017 ruling that U.S. authorities breached the agreement after young immigrants caught on the border said they had to sleep in cold, overcrowded cells and were given inadequate food and dirty water.
In its appeal, the Department contends the judge's order is imposing "new substantive requirements" for the detention of immigrant children that aren't laid out in the 1997 settlement.
During the hearing, Fabian said the agreement was vague about what is required to determine a facility is safe and sanitary.
U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher also questioned the government’s interpretation of the settlement agreement, Courthouse News reported.
“It wasn’t perfumed soap, it was soap. That’s part of ‘safe and sanitary.’ Are you disagreeing with that?” he responded, according to the outlet. The settlement between advocates for young immigrants and the U.S. government says children should be held in facilities that meet certain standards and released as soon as is reasonably possible, which has been considered to be about 20 days.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was reported from Los Angeles.