WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today joined a coalition of 20 Attorneys General 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 filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the coalition asserts that the rule eliminates several critical protections guaranteed by the Flores Settlement Agreement. In particular, the prolonged detention allowed by the rule would cause irreparable harm to children, their families, and the communities that accept them upon their release from federal custody. The lawsuit seeks to block the administration’s new rule and ensure the standards of care set by the Flores Settlement Agreement are followed.
“The Trump administration is irreparably traumatizing innocent migrant children by locking them up, and we cannot stand by and allow them to be detained indefinitely,” said AG Racine. “I’m suing to block the Trump administration from eliminating decades-old protections that establish the minimum standards necessary to protect these vulnerable children and that prior Democratic and Republican administrations have been held to.”
In the complaint, 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 Attorneys General allege the rule violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In November 2018, AG Racine joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in submitting a comment letter to the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services expressing significant concern with the proposed rule and urging the agencies to reconsider.
Background on Flores Settlement
The Flores Settlement Agreement stems from a class action lawsuit filed in 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 the limitation 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 reached a settlement with class counsel in 1997 resulting, among other things, 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.
AG Racine joined this lawsuit with 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, Virginia, and Washington.
A copy of the complaint is accessible here: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-08/Flores-Complaint.pdf.