Another View: Trump circumventing the Flores Settlement Agreement
We commend Attorney General T.J. Donovan for adding Vermont to a coalition of states and the District of Columbia in filing a lawsuit opposing the Trump administration's new rule circumventing the Flores Settlement Agreement, which has governed the treatment of children in immigration custody since 1997.
In the complaint before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the coalition argues that the rule eliminates several critical protections guaranteed by the Flores Settlement Agreement. In particular, the prolonged detention risked by the rule would cause irreparable harm to children, their families, and the communities that accept them upon their release from federal custody.
"We will stand up for the welfare of immigrant children," stated Donovan. "We will continue to fight for the dignity and fundamental rights of families, regardless of immigration status."
Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of Homeland Security, recently called the Flores settlement a "key gap in our immigration framework," arguing that the rule change closes a "legal loophole" effectively "incentivizing illegal entry."
However, the rule change, set to go into effect in about 60 days, would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain families indefinitely after transferring them from border custody.
This is wrong on many levels: in policy, morality and marginalizing our nation's heritage. Mostly, though, the administration is disregarding basic human rights. Trump and his team are using helpless immigrant children as political pawns to further an ideological agenda.
According to news reports, the 19 states in the coalition (plus D.C.) have stated they will emphatically assert themselves to protect the welfare and safety of all children, regardless of where they come from or the color of their skin.
In a news release on Vermont's role, Donovan wrote: "In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the Trump administration's final rule interferes with the states' ability to help ensure the health, safety, and welfare of children by undermining state licensing requirements for facilities where children are held.
The rule would result in the vast expansion of family detention centers, which are not state licensed facilities and have historically caused increased trauma in children. The rule will lead to prolonged detention for children with significant long-term negative health consequences. In addition, the coalition argues the rule violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."
The Flores Settlement Agreement stems from a class-action lawsuit filed before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in 1985 in response to substandard conditions of confinement for unaccompanied immigrant children. The lawsuit sought to establish standards for how the federal government should handle the detention of minors, including plaintiff Jenny Lisette Flores. Following litigation that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government eventually reached a 1997 settlement that included:
- Releasing children "without unnecessary delay" to their parents, legal guardians, other adult relatives, another individual designated by the parents/guardians, or a licensed program willing to accept legal custody.
- Placing children in the "least restrictive setting" appropriate to the minor's age and special needs.
- And establishing standards for safe and sanitary conditions of confinement for children in immigration detention.
This lawsuit is a fight for the most vulnerable.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson pointed to interviews conducted by state civil-rights investigators with 28 migrant children ages 12 to 17 who were transferred to state-run child care facilities in Washington after being held at federal detention sites (in effect, migrant jails) at the southern border sometime over the past year.
The interviewees described conditions in the migrant jails: cramped cells, young kids locked in metal cages for days as punishment and guards throwing food on the floor for children to fight over.
Our nation needs to stop detaining families indefinitely and needlessly inflicting trauma, and creating policies that use immigration policy as an abuse of power.
Donovan and the other states are looking out for all of us, especially when it is clear this administration cannot be left to regulate itself.
— The Rutland Herald, Aug. 30
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