Attorney General Becerra Applauds Ruling Retaining Protections for Children Under the Flores Agreement
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today applauded U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee’s decision in Flores v. Barr halting a Trump Administration rule intended to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement. The ruling was obtained by Flores class counsel. The new rule, among other things, risked irreparable harm to children through prolonged detention and would have circumvented the critical role played by states in setting standards for the care of vulnerable children in state-licensed facilities.
“By attempting to terminate the Flores Agreement, the Trump Administration recklessly jeopardized the physical and emotional health of children,” said Attorney General Becerra. “It’s already clear that the Trump Administration has little regard for the basic human rights of children who have been kept in federal custody without access to necessities like soap or a place to sleep. We applaud the plaintiffs for putting a stop to the new regulations. With our partners around the country, we’ll continue to stand steadfast to protect the rights of the most vulnerable among us.”
In a separate case involving the Flores Settlement Agreement, Attorney General Becerra led a multistate coalition arguing that the Trump Administration’s final rule would have interfered with the states’ abilities to help ensure the health, safety, and welfare of children by undermining state licensing requirements for facilities where children are held. The rule would have resulted in the vast expansion of family detention centers, which are not state licensed facilities and have historically caused increased trauma in children. The rule would also have led to prolonged detention for children, which could have resulted in significant long-term negative health consequences. Based on these concerns, the attorneys general argued the rule exceeded the agencies’ statutory authority and violated 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 described conditions that included 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:
- Release of children “without unnecessary delay” to their parents, legal guardians, other adult relatives, another individual designated by the parents/guardians, or a state-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 to meet the particular needs of children in immigration detention.
Attorney General Becerra remains committed to safeguarding the human rights of people in California and around the country. In July, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of attorneys general seeking immediate relief under the Flores Settlement Agreement for children being held for weeks in inhumane conditions without access to basic necessities like soap, clean, water, toothbrushes, showers, or a place to sleep. In 2018, California led a coalition of 18 attorneys general opposing the Trump Administration’s initial proposal to circumvent the Flores Settlement Agreement. In August, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of attorneys general in opposing the Trump Administration’s vast expansion of the use of expedited removal, allowing for certain individuals to be deported without the due process protections afforded in normal removal proceedings. Attorney General Becerra also co-led a coalition of 22 attorneys general in urging the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to rescind a new rule limiting access to the asylum process.