Recent Announcement May Remove Restrictions on Detaining Children

Erick Widman

A recent announcement from the White House threatens to worsen conditions for detainees at the United States’ southern border by proposing a fundamental change to the Flores Settlement agreement.

Decided in 1997, the settlement ruled that children should be released to an adult relative in the U.S. without necessary delays, setting the limit on their time in detention facilities at 20 days. The agreement also states that children should be held in the least-restrictive setting possible and receive a certain quality of care, providing adequate sleeping quarters, bathrooms, meals, medical care, etc. Since 1997, the norm has been that once a family with children, or an unaccompanied minor, is detained at the border, the children could only be held in detention for up to 20 days, and would then be released into the U.S. while their case processes.

The Trump administration is seeking to change this policy. Without the Flores rule governing these situations, children could be held in detention facilities indefinitely until their case is adjudicated, which is often a long and unpredictable process. The administration argues that the current policy under the Flores Settlement encourages families to travel to the U.S. without going through proper legal channels, and therefore needs to be changed.

Nineteen states and Washington D.C. have already taken legal action against this decision by suing the administration. Their argument includes the point that the standard of care for children at the border has already been considerably lower than agreed upon in the Flores Settlement. Being held indefinitely would leave a long-term negative impact on the children affected. Many experts predict that the change will successfully be struck down in court.

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