Oregon Joins Lawsuit Opposing Trump Administration’s Rule Allowing Prolonged Detention of Children

August 26, 2019
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Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum today announced Oregon is joining a coalition of 20 state Attorneys General in filing a lawsuit opposing the Trump Administration’s new rule circumventing the Flores Settlement Agreement, which since 1997 has restricted how long children can be held in immigration custody. The Trump administration wants to change the Flores Settlement and replace it with a new rule that would increase the amount of time children could spend in federal custody.

The complaint, which will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, argues that the new rule eliminates several critical protections guaranteed by the Flores Settlement. In particular, longer detention periods rule would cause irreparable harm to children, their families, and communities throughout the United States.

“The harm and trauma the federal government is causing children by holding them in these detention centers is unacceptable,“ said Attorney General Rosenblum. “Many of these centers are unlicensed and are unsuitable for children for one day—much less months at a time. The longstanding Flores Settlement, which this rule would negate, is one of the only things currently preventing the federal government from locking up innocent children in facilities with unsafe conditions for long periods of time. We must keep it in place.”

In the complaint, 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. In addition, the Attorneys General argue 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 stems from a class action lawsuit filed in 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. In particular, the plaintiffs expressed significant concerns about the use of strip searches, forcing children to share living quarters and bathrooms with adults of the opposite sex, and that minors could not be released to non-guardian relatives, leading to prolonged and cruel detention of children. Following litigation that moved through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government eventually reached a settlement in 1997 resulting, among other things, in:

  • Release of 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
  • Establishment of standards for safe and sanitary conditions of confinement for children in immigration detention.

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

The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) is led by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and serves as the state’s law firm. The Oregon DOJ advocates for and protects all Oregonians, especially the most vulnerable, such as children and seniors.