Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Attorney General Donovan Joins Lawsuit Opposing Trump Administration’s Rule Allowing Prolonged Detention of Children

August 27, 2019

Contact: Julio Thompson, Director, Civil Rights Unit, (802) 828-3171

Attorney General T.J. Donovan today announced he joined a coalition of 19 states and the District of Columbia 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 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. In particular, the prolonged detention risked by the rule would cause irreparable harm to children, their families, and the communities that accept them upon their release from federal custody.

“We will stand up for the welfare of immigrant children,” stated Attorney General Donovan. “We will continue to fight for the dignity and fundamental rights of families, regardless of immigration status.”

In the lawsuit, 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 coalition argues 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. Following litigation that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government eventually reached a 1997 settlement that included:

  • Releasing 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
  • Establishing standards for safe and sanitary conditions of confinement for children in immigration detention.

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

A copy of the complaint can be found here.

Last modified: August 27, 2019