Migrant children
Children playing in a shelter AFP

A federal judge has partially ended a three-decade-old set of rules regarding the way to provide court oversight of migrant children.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee determines that special court supervision can end at the Health and Human Services Department, which takes custody of migrant children after 72 hours of Border Patrol custody. According to The Associated Press, they are placed in a large network of holding facilities and usually released to close relatives.

The Department of Justice argued for the ruling saying that a new set of standards already meet and sometimes exceed the previous set of rules, known as the Flores settlement and first established in 1997. The judge agreed with the argument, although it made some exceptions for children with different needs.

Lawyers representing children, however, vehemently opposed the request, saying the government has not developed a regulatory framework in states where facilities for children had their licensed revoked or could have them in the future.

The agreement, which has stood for 27 years, remains in effect at the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security.

Leecia Welch, deputy litigation director at Children's Rights, which represents children in the case, told AP that "it is disappointing and premature to allow partial termination — before the federal government has set up an alternative to the crucial protections offered by state licensing — but we are relieved that children will still have access to Flores counsel to monitor their treatment."

Border Patrol facilities are routinely overcrowded as the amount of migrants reaching the U.S. continue to break records every month, despite a recent drop. Arrests of unaccompanied children topped 130,000 last year, and HHS releases most of them to close relatives while immigration judges determine their futures.

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