Ari Melber welcomed Peter Schey, the lead attorney on the landmark Flores Agreement, which codified minimum standards of humane care for migrant children in U.S. Government custody. Mr. Schey continues to fight for the rights of immigrants and is currently battling the Trump administration while heading The Center For Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
I cannot fully explain how amazing it was to hear the man who fought for the rights of migrants talk about now only the case decades ago, but parallels he sees now and what he is doing to prevent further abuses by the Trump Administration. Here is a bit of the interview:
SCHEY: Thank you very much for having me.
MELBER: Thank you. Donald Trump, big picture, says all this started with Barack Obama. Is that true?
SCHEY: That is really completely false. The President has blamed President Obama for separating children and claimed that he brought them back together with their parents through an executive order. That was completely false. President Obama never separated children from their parents. President Trump did that and in reaction to public outcry two months later he issued an executive order rescinding that an separation policy. In that order, he ordered Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to file a motion in the courts immediately attempting to terminate the Flores settlement. That was unsuccessful. That took place about a year ago.
MELBER: Yeah, let me pause on that with you I wonder how you feel, I know you care a lot about the rights of these individuals. I wonder how you feel having won that battle, set a lot of the immigration law and then watched this pPresident not only push against it but try to basically destroy Flores. Do you think he'll get away with this?
SCHEY: I think it is really sad and commentary on this President that he is the first President in 21 years who is actively engaged in attempting to dismantle an agreement that really just provides a couple of basic important rights for children in detention. One is the right to humane treatment and that is accomplished by requiring that children, as expeditiously as possible, be placed into a licensed facility and the other is the right to prompt family reunification if the child is not a flight risk or a danger to herself or others.
MELBER: Exactly. I'm going to jump in and say, sir, this is what you've been working on. A lot of Americans this year were learning about this and saying "how can this be?" Part of the answer is you won rulings against it. With regard to know cans the Trump officials say in public and court it's not so bad. Take a look.
MELBER: Is that true in your experience?
SCHEY: That is not true in our experience. We have the right to the monitor the terms of the settlement and so we have monitoring teams, lawyers, child welfare experts who go into detention facilities, go into border patrol facilities. And what we have found particularly in the border patrol facilities where children have been held for days and weeks on end is severe overcrowding, children being held in cages, children not having medical assessments, children being held in very unsanitary conditions. And then what we have found for children who are beyond the border patrol into Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities, those facilities are supposed to be licensed under state laws. And children are held there for months on end while extreme vetting takes place of their parents, when these children should be released in two or three weeks and instead detained for months on end.
MELBER: I'm curious, last question to you with the limited time. What drew you early in your career to fight for these kids coming across the border? Years ago when a lot of people weren't thinking about this.
SCHEY: You know, years ago what drew us into the case in the Center for Human Rights into this case is that this population was really uniquely vulnerable. It was hard to -- immigrants in general are a vulnerable population and highly exploitable population in this country. But these unaccompanied immigrant children are really among the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. And when we filed this had case they had no legal rights. Since we filed the case and achieved a settlement in 1997, tens of thousands of children have been treated humanely and have been released relatively promptly.
MELBER: You say that. That's so important. People are so concerned and frustrated. What you're outlining is amidst that for years, it's these court sanctioned protections that have improved the lives of some people. Flores they know about it. Peter Schey, thanks for coming on tonight.
We hear about the Flores Settlement all the time, but rarely hear from the people who made it happen. Wonderful to see that Mr. Schey is continuing his lifelong work of ensuring that immigrant children are provided basic, humane care while in the custody of our government. Those children need his help now, more than ever, under the oppressive Trump regime.