Administration Guts Essential Protections for Immigrant Children


Administration Guts Essential Protections for Immigrant Children

August 22, 2019, Chicago IL –Today the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) announced regulations under which the government attempts to end decades-old safeguards and protections for immigrant children. Those protections were first codified in the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement. Guided by principles of child welfare and family unity, the Flores Settlement Agreement sets minimum standards for the detention, release, and treatment of immigrant children.

“Detention is never in the best interests of children. The Flores Agreement recognizes that children are different from adults, that they should not be detained for months, that detention harms children,” said Maria Woltjen, Executive Director at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. “Unaccompanied children and families arriving today are fleeing unrelenting violence in Central America. They’ve made the difficult decision to leave their homes. The longstanding Flores Agreement ensures that children who arrive on our doorstep are protected from harm while their case is decided.”

For two years, the administration has engaged in a dangerous game of rhetoric in which this vital protection for immigrant children is routinely mischaracterized as a “loophole” exploited by children. Eliminating the Flores Settlement Agreement has been one of its primary goals. Not surprisingly, today’s regulations eliminate the central protections guaranteed under Flores. The regulations allow DHS to “self-certify” that jails are safe for children, rather than requiring them to comply with state-specific licensing standards for caring for children in government custody. This means that the same agency responsible for forcibly separating children from parents will be allowed to determine what constitutes the humane treatment of parents and children in detention. Most alarmingly, the regulation will permit the indefinite detention of immigrant children and families, a move which the government’s own expert advisors have concluded to be unnecessary, inappropriate and “never in the best interest of children.”

The regulations also allow government officials to disrupt children’s progress in their legal cases, by re-evaluating and potentially re-determining the child’s eligibility for protection on an ongoing basis. This provision would strip children of critical, child-appropriate procedures that provide due process and allow them the necessary time and safe space to recover from trauma as they apply for legal relief. The administration’s test run of this idea was recently blocked by another federal court.

“These regulations are an assault on the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable children. They are part of a relentless effort by this administration to unlawfully deter migration through punitive measures targeting children,” said Young Center Policy Director Jennifer Nagda. “The Flores agreement was necessary more than 20 years ago because of the dangerous conditions children were subject to in immigration detention facilities. Now, after a year marked by the death of children in DHS custody and a summer of utterly inhumane conditions for children at the border, the administration has the audacity to claim that the central protections of the Flores Agreement are no longer necessary.”

The Young Center condemns these regulations and trusts that the federal court overseeing the original settlement agreement will recognize that these regulations undermine, rather than support, the protections that the government agreed to more than two decades ago.

The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights is a non-profit organization that protects and advances the rights and best interests of immigrant children and advocates for an immigration system that treats children as children first.

For press inquiries, please contact Noorjahan Akbar at or 202-725-7184.

Maddie Witters