In 1997, a year’s long fight for humane standards for the detention and release of migrant children concluded with the Flores Settlement. Since then, the Flores Settlement has been instrumental in providing important protections to migrant children detained in the United States. Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) filed a proposed rule seeking to drastically limit these protections.
To truly understand the importance of the Flores Settlement, we must remember the circumstances that led to the agreement. The conditions faced by migrant children at the time of the Flores Settlement were abhorrent. Children were often held with adults of both sexes where they were subject to strip searches, denied access to schooling and exercise, and prohibited from contacting their parents. The Flores Agreement sought to ensure the humane treatment of these children. Among other things, the agreement limits the duration a child can be detained to 20 days and provides that children must be housed in facilities that are licensed by an appropriate state agency to provide residential, group, or foster care services for dependent children.
The proposed rule filed with the Federal Register on Sept. 7 would seek to gut many of the protections provided by the Flores Settlement—including the 20-day detention limit. Thus, children detained in the United States are now at risk to face conditions that were condemned over two decades ago.
This challenge to the Flores Settlement comes just two months after the government was ordered to reunite 2,675 children separated from their families at the border. As of last week, roughly 400 of those children remain separated from their families and in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The longer these children remain separated from their family, the greater the risk that these children may suffer long term physiological effects. Indeed, media reports suggest that many of the children united with their families weeks ago already showed signs of separation trauma and other mental health issues.
While the initial outrage surrounding the separation of families at the border seems to be waning (despite a record number of children in detention) and the complexity of the legal issues surrounding the rights of migrant children increases, the picture for those children entering the country and those that remain separated is increasingly bleak.
Now, more than ever, we need to continue to pressure the party whose responsibility it is to unite these families—the government. And we need to ensure that the current protections for migrant children in detention remain in place.
You can voice your support for the Flores Settlement by commenting on the proposed rule and by calling your representatives and telling them to protect Flores. You can also sign this letter from our friends at National Domestic Workers Alliance.