This is where you end up when defending Trump administration policies

If you work in the Donald Trump administration, you will find yourself steadily violating any ethical principles you might have started with until at some point, you end up not having even a shred of decency. That point was reached on Tuesday for Sarah Fabian, the justice department lawyer arguing before a US Appeals Court that the appalling conditions under which detained migrant children taken into custody at the US-Mexico border were being treated, such as keeping them in freezing cages where they had to sleep on the floor, were justified.

Fabian claimed that these children are not entitled to what most people would consider the most basic sanitary necessities. This was in a court case where the administration was sued that they were not complying with the requirements laid down under the earlier Flores guidelines for how children should be treated. (Incidentally, cases are always referred to by the names of the party or parties involved though Donald Trump, genius that he is, thought that Flores was the name of the judge who made the ruling and because it was a Hispanic name, concluded that it meant he was a biased judge.)

The settlement at issue came out of Jenny Lisette Flores v. Edwin Meese, filed in 1985 on behalf of a class of unaccompanied minors fleeing torture and abuse in Central America.

Finally agreed upon in 1997, the settlement established guidelines for the humane detention, treatment and release of minors taken into federal immigration custody. The guidelines include the right to a bond hearing and requirements that immigration authorities timely release children to parents or guardians and place those not released in facilities that meet certain standards. The facilities are supposed to be “safe and sanitary.”

In a recent case, a judge ruled that the administration was not complying with Flores.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles granted the class’ motion and ordered the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure government compliance with Flores.

Gee said the administration had breached Flores by failing to provide detainees with adequate food and clean drinking water, or with hygiene items like soap, toothbrushes and towels. She also concluded that the children were being deprived of sleep and access to bathrooms, and were subjected to near-freezing temperatures.

In appealing that decision, the lawyer for the administration argued that the requirements only said that conditions should be ‘safe and sanitary’ and that if the judge in Flores had wanted beds, soap, clean water, and the like provided, he would have listed them and thus it was acceptable for the children to not be given any of those or other non-listed items and have them sleep on concrete floors in frigid, overcrowded cages.

The three judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals could not believe what they were hearing. One judge responded that the absence of a listing of items like soap may be because the judge thought that it went without saying that such basic items should be provided.

The Trump administration argued in front of a Ninth Circuit panel Tuesday that the government is not required to give soap or toothbrushes to children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border and can have them sleep on concrete floors in frigid, overcrowded cells, despite a settlement agreement that requires detainees be kept in “safe and sanitary” facilities.

All three judges appeared incredulous during the hearing in San Francisco, in which the Trump administration challenged previous legal findings that it is violating a landmark class action settlement by mistreating undocumented immigrant children at U.S. detention facilities.

“You’re really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn’t a question of safe and sanitary conditions?’” U.S. Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon asked the Justice Department’s Sarah Fabian Tuesday.

U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher also questioned the government’s interpretation of the settlement agreement.

“Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?” Fletcher asked Fabian. “I find that inconceivable that the government would say that that is safe and sanitary.”

On Tuesday, Fabian asked the Ninth Circuit to reverse Gee’s findings because they added new requirements – such as giving detainees soap and toothbrushes – that were not specifically included in Flores.

“One has to assume it was left that way and not enumerated by the parties because either the parties couldn’t reach agreement on how to enumerate that or it was left to the agencies to determine,” Fabian said.

“Or it was relatively obvious,” Fletcher shot back. “And at least obvious enough so that if you’re putting people into a crowded room to sleep on a concrete floor with an aluminum-foil blanket on top of them that it doesn’t comply with the agreement.”

“It wasn’t perfumed soap, it was soap. That’s part of ‘safe and sanitary.’ Are you disagreeing with that?” he added.

If you work for Trump, you will end up in the gutter.


  1. Matt G says

    Not to worry -- I’m sure Fabian is a devout, church-going Christian, with deeply-held religious convictions. She will do the right thing.

  2. jrkrideau says

    Good lord. One keep thinking that the Trump Administration cannot sink any lower and, all of a sudden more dirt flies out of the hole.

    Government lawyers in many countries often find themselves arguing for some disgusting things but I would have thought that that this was a resignation level issue. Or wait, is Sarah Fabian a regular civil service type or one of Trump’s appointees?

    I, also had a very quick glance at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and those arguments look to be in violation of several of the articles wrt this case. Articles 4 & 5, among others, seem to apply.

    After the skim, it look looks to me like the US in in violation of about half of them and the USA is a signatory. Heck, Eleanor Rousivelt was one of the people involved in its drafting. The US in definitely in violation with respect to the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Not that Trump started it but he is obliged to apply its provisions (maniacal laughter).

    I have never read the entire Declaration of the Rights of the Child but I downloaded it and read a few principles.
    It appears to be a blueprint for the Trump Admin. Anything the Declaration, do the opposite.

    Louis XIV, himself, would probably be outraged.

  3. says

    My favourite thing is how magas will trot out photos and links proving the Obama administration also kept children in cages as if a) if we weren’t outraged then we shouldn’t be outraged now and b) the Hamberdler’s regime isn’t doing it in an increased and much more cruel way. It was bad that Obama did it. It’s bad now.

  4. Kevin Dugan says

    According to Sarah Fabian has has been active in the Justice dept since 2011 and perhaps back as far as 1998. I don’t know her case history or politics, but perhaps this is how you weed out the good people who are fed up with being forced to do immoral things in order to keep a service career; leaving in the administration only those who are OK with atrocities.

  5. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#3:
    It was bad that Obama did it. It’s bad now.

    Word. It’s crazy how some people don’t understand “I have enough hatred to go around.” Just because I think Trump sucks doesn’t mean I give Obama a pass. The problem is that if it was their guy, they wood. Tsk tsk moral relativism and all that.

  6. says

    Louis XIV, himself, would probably be outraged.

    So, I grew up with a father who’s one of the world’s foremost scholars of Louis XIV. He always seemed to feel that, while he was a decadent plutocrat, he was not a bad fellow. He had a difficult childhood, in the sense of growing up too fast and carrying a great weight of others’ expectations. He surrounded himself with genuinely great people as his advisors; let’s just say John Bolton is no Mazarin. He partied hard but had work ethics; we would not play golf…

    In other words, he probably would be outraged, and would (because he actually was an absolute monarch) say “stop that immediately!”

  7. Jenora Feuer says

    The U.S. never ratified the 1994 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mostly because of the sorts of folks who think How to Train Up a Child by Michael Pearl is a good book; in other words, those who consider any requirement that they not beat their child half to death to be a gross violation of their freedom.

    And that was even before the 2007 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was explicitly not ratified by the U.S., despite being largely based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, because of the general distrust of anything coming from the U.N. in a large chunk of the American political population.

  8. jrkrideau says

    @7 Marcus Ranum
    Re the Sun King. Yes, after I posted that I felt a bit guilty but there is no edit facility. Maybe Nero?
    The real comparison would be Lavrentiy Beria. He was a truly evil man. And that understates the case. Actually he would probably be applauding.

  9. deepak shetty says

    If you work for Trump, you will end up in the gutter.

    At this point only those who love wallowing in the gutter are applying for the job.

  10. says

    I read an account of diplomatic meetings between Stalinist and Hitlerian elite -- apparently Beria creeped Himmler out.

    When they shot him, the general who pulled the trigger stuffed a rag in his mouth, he was screaming so loudly. Sauce for the goose.

  11. Mano Singham says


    Have you seen the 2017 film The Death of Stalin that I reviewed here? It is a comedy in which Beria plays a major role.

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