In 1985, there was a class action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of unaccompanied minors being held in custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In 1997, it was finally ruled that children held in detention centers could only be there for a limited of time.
Under the Flores Agreement: “Where the INS determines that the detention of the minor is not required either to secure his or her timely appearance before the INS or the immigration court, or to ensure the minor’s safety or that of others, the INS shall release a minor from its custody without unnecessary delay.”
The Trump administration wants to do away with the Flores Agreement in order for children to remain in detention centers for a longer period of time, possibly indefinitely.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that their proposal will be a “basic purpose” of the Flores Agreement, and adds that children will be treated with “dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.”
“Today, legal loopholes significantly hinder the Department’s ability to appropriately detain and promptly remove family units that have no legal basis to remain in the country,” Nielsen said. “This rule addresses one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration and allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress.”
As of now, children are only allowed to remain in detention for 20 days unless they opt out.
The original agreement says that children (accompanied or not) who do not pose a flight risk can be released with their families while they await immigration proceedings. Now, under the new proposal, the kids and the families will remain in detention until their case is closed, which means they either gain asylum or get deported.
“The Trump administration has been whittling away at the basic rights of women and children since they came into office,” Michelle Brané, director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission told The New York Times. “Efforts to weaken or eliminate basic child protection standards by calling them a burden or loopholes, and eliminating their obligations for the basic care of children, is just another example of the administration’s abdication of human rights.”
Immigrant rights organizations are already promising lawsuits if the protections are rescinded.
“We will oppose in court any effort to terminate the Flores settlement unless and until the Government proposes regulations that provide for the safe and humane treatment of detained children and that are fully consistent with the terms of the settlement we negotiated in 1997,” President of the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, Peter Schey, said to NPR.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agreed with that sentiment. Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, had this reaction: “It is sickening to see the United States government looking for ways to jail more children for longer. That’s the complete opposite of what we should be doing — and it’s yet another example of the Trump administration’s hostility toward immigrants resulting in a policy incompatible with the most basic human values.”