Attorney General James Joins Fight Against Trump Administration's Prolonged Detention Of Children

Attorney General James Joins Fight Against Trump Administration’s Prolonged Detention of Children

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James today filed a lawsuit in partnership with 19 Attorneys General opposing the Trump Administration’s new rule seeking to circumvent the Flores Settlement Agreement, which has governed the treatment of children in immigration custody since 1997. In the complaint before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the coalition argues that the rule eliminates several critical protections guaranteed by the Flores Settlement Agreement and the laws that gave rise to it. In addition, the prolonged detention permitted by the rule would cause irreparable harm to children, their families, and the communities that accept them upon their release from federal custody.

“This case cuts to core of who we are as a nation, which has long been a staunch defender of human rights,” said Attorney General James. “The Trump Administration’s new rule is a troubling rejection of this ideal. It is not acceptable to detain people – especially and including children – under cruel conditions that fail to meet their basic human needs. We will not allow them to trample on our values without a fight.”

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 could lead to prolonged detention for children with significant long-term negative health consequences. In addition, the Attorneys General argue the rule violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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 reached a settlement with class counsel in 1997 resulting, among other things, in:

  • Mandating the release of children “without unnecessary delay” to their parents, legal guardians, other adult relatives, other individuals designated by the parents/guardians, or a licensed program willing to accept legal custody;
  • Children being placed in the “least restrictive setting” appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs; and
  • The establishment of standards for safe and sanitary conditions of confinement for children in immigration detention.

Attorney General James, in filing the lawsuit, joins the Attorneys General of California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.