Bryan Cox/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via Getty Images

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Wednesday that undocumented minors who enter the country without permission must be given a hearing to determine whether they can be released.

The judges ruled that immigration authorities are bound by a 1997 settlement in the case Flores v. Janet Reno, which said that juveniles detained without a parent must be given bond hearings, have standards set for their detention and have a policy established for their release, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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The hearings give minors the right to an attorney and the opportunity to learn and challenge the evidence the government has against them, including the right to contest being locked up, the Times reports.

Judge Stephen Reinhart, a Carter appointee, wrote for the court (pdf), “In the absence of such hearings, these children are held in bureaucratic limbo, left to rely upon upon the [government’s] alleged benevolence and opaque decision making.”

The court cited evidence that the government has held minors for months or even years without a hearing, including a boy identified only as Hector, who was picked up in California at the age of 15 and detained for 480 days in a locked facility in Yolo County that he described as a prison.

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Hector said that minors were locked in cells at night and made to sleep on cement benches with mattresses. The Times reports that Hector was held in the facility for 16 months and not given the opportunity to speak with a lawyer, even though his mother was in Los Angeles fighting for his release.

He was released in December without explanation, Reinhart noted.

“Unaccompanied minors today face an impossible choice between what is, in effect, indefinite detention in prison, and agreeing to their own removal and possible persecution” in their native countries, Reinhart wrote.

Let’s not even get into how dismissive of children’s humanity it is to hold them in a cement block because they were trying to get into this country for a better life.

Regardless of where you stand on the immigration debate, you have to admit that this is a pretty shitty way to treat kids.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.