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20 attorney generals sue to protect safety of immigrant children in civil detention

Attorney generals filed a suit against the Trump Administration’s new rule that would not guarantee safe, human treatment of children in in immigration custody.

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Mark R. Herring, along with 19 other attorney generals, filed suit on Monday against the Trump Administration’s new rule that attempts to find a way around the Flores Settlement Agreement

The agreement is a landmark agreement that has guaranteed safe, humane treatment of children in immigration custody since 1997.

In the complaint, the attorneys general argue that the Trump Administration's new 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.

RELATED: Virginia joins lawsuit against Trump administration on immigration rule

“The Trump Administration's treatment of immigrant children has been inhumane and immoral,” said Attorney General Herring. “For more than two decades the Flores Settlement Agreement has guaranteed a basic level of health, security, and safety for immigrant children, but now the Trump Administration is seeking to simply circumvent the settlement and abandon the protections it includes. These children do not have the ability to stand up for themselves against the Trump Administration, so we must do it for them.” 

In the complaint, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue 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 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. In particular, the plaintiffs expressed significant concerns about the use of strip searches, forcing children to share living quarters and bathrooms with adults of the opposite sex, and that minors could not be released to non-guardian relatives, leading to prolonged and cruel detention of children.

Following litigation that moved through the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government eventually settled with class counsel in 1997 resulting in:

  • Release of 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
  • Establishment of standards for safe and sanitary conditions of confinement for children in immigration detention.

Attorney General Herring is joined by the attorneys general of California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

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