Federal Court affirms that children held in open air detention sites are in CBP custody

Layne Mullett
Director of Media Relations


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SOUTHERN BORDER (April 5, 2024) - In a significant victory this week,  a court decision affirmed that children held in Open Air Detention Sites (OADS) are indeed under the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This ruling comes on the heels of nearly a year of documentation and multiple administrative complaints filed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) and its partners with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) concerning the dire conditions migrants face while detained at these sites.

In the past year, Border Patrol officers have subjected asylum seekers to prolonged outdoor waits, lasting for hours or even days, between sections of the San Diego border walls and in the Jacumba desert. During this time, migrants are denied the ability to leave, and they are not provided adequate access to essential resources such as water, food, sanitation, medical care, and protection from the harsh elements. The new ruling mandates that CBP complies with its in-custody standards determined by the Flores Settlement for children in their detention immediately, with an update to the court on May 10.

In response to the dire humanitarian crisis unfolding at the OADS, multiple advocacy organizations including Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and mutual aid groups and individuals have undertaken critical efforts to provide immediate aid and document the abuses perpetrated by CBP against migrants. Collectively through their tireless work, advocates have documented egregious violations of human rights and in-custody standards, compiling extensive evidence to support the court filing.

"The court's decision to recognize CBP's custody of children in Open Air Detention Sites is a crucial step towards ensuring accountability and protection for vulnerable migrants," said Lilian Serrano, Director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. "There are minimum standards that must be followed if CBP will be detaining families, children, and other people. We are pleased to see the federal court acknowledge this fundamental truth. Now we expect the agency to comply with the court’s order immediately."

“This important ruling, that children held by Border Patrol in Open Air Detention Sites under unsanitary and grueling conditions along the border are in fact under Customs and Border Protection custody, supports what human rights advocates on the ground have been saying all along, that Border Patrol must immediately abide by the Flores Settlement Agreement terms and ensure the safety and welfare of all children under their custody,” said Pedro Rios, Director of the American Friends Services Committee’s US-Mexico Border Program. 

“We are grateful that Judge Gee confirmed what we have been witnessing at the OADS for over a year,” said Erika Pinheiro, Executive Director of Al Otro Lado. “Border Patrol agents are systematically violating children’s rights by forcing them to wait in Open Air Detention Sites without access to the basics needed for survival. Although this order only applies to children, we will keep fighting until all human beings seeking safety at our borders are treated with dignity and processed in accordance with our laws.”

“The court’s decision is uplifting news and hopefully signals an important step in our efforts to shut down the Open-Air Detention Sites for good.” said Flower Alvarez-Lopez, Co-Director of Universidad Popular. “We witness children and adults detained under conditions that threaten health and prevent access to basic hygiene needs and care. Thank you to the countless volunteers who continue providing humanitarian aid at the OADS and the Flores Settlement Agreement Legal Team for advancing our plight for justice and human rights. It is unacceptable that thousands of people must suffer in these egregious conditions on American soil.”


The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) brings together organizations from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas, to ensure that border enforcement policies and practices are accountable and fair, respect human dignity and human rights, and prevent the loss of life in the region.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) promotes a world free of violence, inequality, and oppression. Guided by the Quaker belief in the divine light within each person, we nurture the seeds of change and the respect for human life to fundamentally transform our societies and institutions. We work with people and partners worldwide, of all faiths and backgrounds, to meet urgent community needs, challenge injustice, and build peace.

Al Otro Lado provides holistic legal and humanitarian support to refugees, deportees, and other migrants in the U.S. and Tijuana through a multidisciplinary, client-centered, harm reduction-based practice.  They engage in individual representation, human rights monitoring, medical-legal partnerships, and impact litigation to protect the rights of immigrants and people seeking asylum.

Universidad Popular is a grassroots community-based organization promoting health, education and nurturing a culture of trust and civic participation in our nation’s democratic process. We bring together community leaders and educators with bold ideas who create programs that are culturally and linguistically responsive, data-driven, and social justice focused.