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What Is the Flores Settlement Agreement? And Why Does Trump Want to End It?

This is an emotional picture about the immigration policies of the united states
By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

The separation of immigrant children from their parents -- and their subsequent detention -- may be a hot news topic right now, but the issue isn't exactly new. In fact, immigration officials have been trying to figure out what to do with unaccompanied migrant children since the early '80s. Those efforts, and a class action lawsuit against the federal government decided by the Supreme Court, led to a 1997 settlement agreement between minor detainees and then-Attorney General Janet Reno outlining strict regulations and standards regarding the detention and treatment of minors in federal custody.

Known as the Flores Settlement, the agreement has been fairly uncontroversial until the past few years, as family detention and separation have spiked under the Trump administration. Now Trump's Department of Homeland Security wants to undo one of the Flores Settlement's main provisions. What would the new rule do?

Agreement Terms

Among other restrictions and requirements, the Flores Settlement mandates that the government:

  • House minor detainees in facilities that meet certain standards, including state standards for housing and care of dependent children
  • Place minors in the least restrictive setting appropriate to the child's age and special needs; provide notice of rights, safe and sanitary facilities, and contact with family members
  • Maintain a policy favoring release to a parent, legal guardian, adult relative, or licensed program, and make continuous efforts toward family reunification
  • Allow children to seek judicial review with any U.S. District Court to challenge their placement determination or noncompliance of the facility

Most importantly, the settlement caps the detention of immigrant children (accompanied or not) at 20 days before their release or transfer to a licensed facility.

Agreement Terminated

This week, however, DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new rule that would terminate the Flores Settlement, remove its 20-day limit on minor detention, and eliminate the requirement that family detention centers be licensed by the states. That would mean immigrant children, and families, could be detained indefinitely. (The government tried to modify the agreement to allow or indefinite detention last year, but a federal judge denied the request.)

A judge would need to approve these changes as well, and the effort is sure to attract legal challenges, just as all of Trump's immigration policies have. Until all that is sorted, the Flores Settlement remains in place. If you have more questions about how it works or how it is enforced, talk to an experienced immigration attorney for help.

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