The separation of immigrant children from their parents -- and their subsequent detention -- may be a hot news topic right now, but the issue isn't exactly new. In fact, immigration officials have been trying to figure out what to do with unaccompanied migrant children since the early '80s. Those efforts, and a class action lawsuit against the federal government decided by the Supreme Court, led to a 1997 settlement agreement between minor detainees and then-Attorney General Janet Reno outlining strict regulations and standards regarding the detention and treatment of minors in federal custody.
Known as the Flores Settlement, the agreement has been fairly uncontroversial until the past few years, as family detention and separation have spiked under the Trump administration. Now Trump's Department of Homeland Security wants to undo one of the Flores Settlement's main provisions. What would the new rule do?
Among other restrictions and requirements, the Flores Settlement mandates that the government:
Most importantly, the settlement caps the detention of immigrant children (accompanied or not) at 20 days before their release or transfer to a licensed facility.
This week, however, DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new rule that would terminate the Flores Settlement, remove its 20-day limit on minor detention, and eliminate the requirement that family detention centers be licensed by the states. That would mean immigrant children, and families, could be detained indefinitely. (The government tried to modify the agreement to allow or indefinite detention last year, but a federal judge denied the request.)
A judge would need to approve these changes as well, and the effort is sure to attract legal challenges, just as all of Trump's immigration policies have. Until all that is sorted, the Flores Settlement remains in place. If you have more questions about how it works or how it is enforced, talk to an experienced immigration attorney for help.