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Vermont Joins Fight Against Attempt to Undermine the Rights of Children in Immigration Detention

January 29, 2020

Contact: Ben Battles, Solicitor General, 802-828-3171

Attorney General Donovan today joined a coalition in filing an amicus brief in support of the children who are plaintiffs in Flores v. Barr. The case, currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, involves the Trump Administration’s attempts to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, which has governed the treatment of children in immigration custody since 1997. In the amicus brief, the coalition urges the court to uphold the permanent injunction issued by the district court, preventing the federal government from keeping children in prolonged and unnecessary detention.

“Children in federal immigration custody should be treated humanely,” said Attorney General Donovan. “We will keep fighting to make sure that these kids are protected.”

Last year, a federal court halted the Trump Administration’s attempts to terminate and replace the Flores Settlement Agreement with an inadequate and unlawful new rule. In a separate case challenging the new rule, a multistate coalition argued that the 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 housed. In addition, the rule would have resulted in the expansion of family detention centers, which are not state-licensed facilities and have historically caused increased trauma in children. Moreover, prolonged detention of children can result in significant long-term negative health consequences. Based on these concerns, the coalition argued the rule exceeded the Administration’s 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 in 1985 before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California 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 children, including plaintiff Jenny Lisette Flores. Following litigation that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government eventually reached a settlement in 1997 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 amicus brief, Attorney General Donovan joins the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the amicus brief can be found here.