A lawyer for the Trump administration is defending herself after she argued the government isn’t legally required to provide toothbrushes, soap or sufficient sleep to migrant children held in U.S. custody.
Sarah Fabian, an attorney with the Justice Department, drew widespread outrage after an edited video of her arguments in front of a federal court last week went viral.
The case dated back to the Obama administration, but the timing coincided with reports detailing the conditions of detention facilities along the southern U.S. border, where children as young as two were living in squalid conditions, many hungry or sick and without access to basic necessities like soap or clean clothes.
WATCH: Children facing neglect at migrant detention facility in Texas
Fabian wrote in a private Facebook post defending her appearance before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, saying her words had been taken “out of context” and that she believed the country should “do our very best to care for kids.”
“I think that many, many people believe I was in court Tuesday arguing against providing certain hygiene items to kids,” Fabian said in a Facebook post, first reported by NBC News. “I do not believe that’s the position I was representing.
“I will say that I personally believe that we should do our very best to care for kids while they are in our custody, and I try to always represent that value in my work.”
Fabian wrote that as a Justice Department employee, her job is to defend the current administration regardless of her personal beliefs.
Last week, Fabian appeared before the three-judge appellate panel in California to argue in favour of reversing a ruling from the 1990s that found the government had violated standards for detaining migrant children.
She argued that because the 1997 agreement did not explicitly require items like “toothbrushes,” “towels” or “sleep” for children, the government hadn’t violated the “safe and sanitary” requirement.
Video of the appearance showed the judges visibly stunned.
“You’re really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn’t a question of safe and sanitary conditions?” Judge Marsha Berzon asked Fabian.
“To me, it’s more like it’s within everybody’s common understanding: if you don’t have a toothbrush, if you don’t have soap, if you don’t have a blanket, it’s not safe and sanitary,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima told Fabian. “Wouldn’t everybody agree to that? Would you agree to that?”
Fabian said she thought it was fair to say “those things may be” part of the definition of safe and sanitary.
“What are you saying, ‘may be?’” Tashima shot back. “You mean there’s circumstances when a person doesn’t need to have a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap? For days?”
The Trump administration has been widely criticized over the issue of migrant children at the southern border.
After reports of the conditions of the facilities in Texas, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Monday that they had removed nearly 300 children being held at that Border Patrol station. A day later, officials said 100 kids had been moved back to the facility.
On Tuesday, Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders announced he would resign amid the issues at the border and the controversy over how children are being treated.
*With files from the Associated Press