Government asks judge to bar doctors’ statements in dispute over Homestead migrant children’s facility

Lawyers for the federal government Friday urged a judge deciding whether to close a massive facility for unaccompanied migrant children in government custody to disregard several declarations by physicians and an expert on law and immigration.

The declarations were made over the summer as part of legal proceedings surrounding a landmark court settlement that set the standards for unaccompanied migrant children in government custody. Lawyers in the case are demanding the closure of the nation’s largest so-called shelter for unaccompanied migrant children, in Homestead, Florida.

The attorneys interviewed children in Homestead — which is currently empty, but can hold as many as 1,200 children — in November 2018 and March 2019. They said in the May motion that children were detained for too long, were “harmed by lengthy detention at Homestead,” and subject to “prison-like” rules. That motion included testimonials from dozens of children who were detained at Homestead, as well as the declarations the government is now seeking to bar — from an attorney who interviewed many of the children, and a trio of physicians.

Hope Frye, a prominent attorney who has visited government facilities for unaccompanied children around the country, declared in the May filing that she supervised a site visit at Homestead in late March. In her testimony, she wrote that children had not been advised of their rights or given access to lawyers, did not know that they were allowed visitors, and weren’t given adequate time to speak with their families on the phone. She wrote that several children reported days-long delays when in need of medical treatment. Frye also described “serious concerns” over the safety and care of a 14-year-old blind Guatemalan boy who said he had been repeatedly abused by other children. When asked why the boy hadn’t been released to his father, she was told staff was waiting on a $5,000 pair of glasses for the boy, but had no idea when they would be delivered.  

Government attorneys said in their filing Friday that Frye’s declaration should be deemed inadmissible because some information she referred to had been gleaned from interviews conducted by other members of her team, rather than Frye herself. They also called some of her allegations hearsay.

Government attorneys say another declaration, by a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley pediatrics professor, should be barred because they say the doctor doesn’t qualify as an expert. The doctor, Marsha Griffin, is co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, and wrote in her declaration that she has toured multiple immigration detention unaccompanied minor facilities over the course of more than a decade.