What Is The Flores Agreement? Trump Admin To Dissolve Settlement, Keep Families In Custody While Immigration Cases Heard In Court

A 1997 settlement could soon be dissolved as officials in President Donald Trump's administration seek to change some of the guidelines established within it.

The proposal from the Trump administration, announced Wednesday by Kevin McAleenan, Acting Chief of the Department of Homeland Security, eliminates some protections for migrant children established by the Flores Settlement Agreement.

The Flores Agreement began as a class-action lawsuit in 1985, filed on behalf of Jenny Lisette Flores, Alma Yanira Cruz and two other girls after their experience in a motel in Pasadena, California where the then-named Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), now known as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), held dozens of undocumented immigrants.

According to The New York Times, Cruz told her mother, Anna Aldana, shortly after her arrival to the United States that she was kept in the Pasadena motel for weeks without visits from her family or doctors. Cruz, who was 12 years old at the time, also said she was not allowed any time for recreation and not given any schooling.

"Alma suffered too much. She felt unsafe. She was mixed with all kinds of people and was afraid. She told me they didn't give her enough food. She told me she fell out of a high bunk bed," Aldana told the Times.

The lawsuit also alleged that the girls were subjected to body cavity and strip searches and kept in rooms with adults unrelated to them and whom they did not know.

The class-action suit spent 12 years in the court system, including being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in the government's favor, before the two sides came to a settlement agreement in 1997.

The agreement states that the federal government should be held to certain standards when holding migrant children in its custody. Among the requirements were that the government release children in a timely fashion to parents, legal guardians, adult relatives or an adult or organization appointed by the parent or legal guardians as "capable and willing to care for the minor's well-being."

The agreement also outlined the conditions which must be maintained by facilities licensed to keep undocumented children.

Among the requirements are "suitable living accommodations, food, appropriate clothing, and personal grooming items" as well as health care, which includes immunizations and a complete check-up within 48 hours of entering into federal custody. Children are also required under the agreement to be given a full assessment that will identify any special needs and obtain information about family members who could be living in the United States.

Educational services, mandatory recreation time, counseling services, visits from family members and a "right to privacy" are also included in the list of requirements.

The agreement includes some stipulations where a child cannot be released, including if doing so would prohibit the child from making an appearance in immigration court or if a suitable guardian or caregiver cannot be found. In those situations, children are to be held in a facility licensed for the care of children and the child be provided the minimum living conditions outlined in the rest of the agreement.

Migrant children
Recently arrived migrant children play with family and volunteer children at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center on June 21, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. Once families and individuals are released from Customs and Border Protection to continue their legal process, they are brought to the center to rest, clean up, enjoy a meal and get guidance to their next destination. Before Trump signed an executive order yesterday that the administration says halts the practice of separating families seeking asylum, more than 2,300 immigrant children had been separated from their parents in the zero-tolerance policy for border crossers. Spencer Plat/Getty

The Trump administration is not the first to challenge the Flores Agreement. In 2015, former President Barack Obama was issued a rebuke from Ninth Circuit Judge Dolly Gee after questioning the limits of the Agreement. Earlier that year, the Obama administration began detaining families who crossed the border and holding them indefinitely as they did not fall under the requirements of the Flores Agreement.

However, Gee ruled that women being held in detention centers with their children did fall under the guidelines of the Flores Agreement and implemented that they are released within 20 days.

The Trump administration's new rule would eliminate the stipulation that undocumented children and teens be released after 20 days and instead expand family detentions. The system the White House hopes to implement claims that families would be held for the duration of court proceedings, which officials estimate to last around three months.

However, a report from The Washington Post, published in May 2019, indicates that there is a backlog of more than 850,000 immigration cases in the U.S. and fewer than 450 judges across the country to hear them.

According to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the average wait time to have an immigration case heard in 2019 is 713 days.

Under the Obama administration, families were not separated when caught illegally crossing into the United States. That policy was implemented by the Trump administration and eventually rescinded.