CGRS Condemns Draft Regulations Undermining Protections for Immigrant Children

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) condemns the proposed regulations to the Flores Settlement announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) yesterday. The proposed regulations would eviscerate essential protections for children in immigration custody, allowing the government to indefinitely imprison immigrant and asylum seeking children in facilities that fall short of basic health and safety standards.

Entered into in 1997, the Flores Settlement Agreement established baseline standards for the care and custody of immigrant and asylum seeking children. The settlement limits DHS’ ability to subject children to prolonged detention, directing the government to release children in its custody to a family member or other sponsor as quickly as possible. While children are detained, the settlement requires that the government hold them in the least restrictive setting possible and mandates that the facilities in which they are held be licensed by state child protection authorities.

The new proposed regulations would replace and dismantle the Flores settlement. They would grant DHS the authority to detain children for the duration of their immigration proceedings, which can often span many months. The proposed regulations would also establish a self-licensing scheme for federal immigration detention centers that would enable DHS to certify its own detention centers as safe for children. This would allow the government to expand its sprawling network of immigration prisons and detain children in facilities that currently do not meet minimal child protection standards.

DHS has consistently demonstrated that it is incapable of ensuring the safety of children and families in its custody, even with the Flores Settlement intact. Over the years the government has consistently failed to adhere to its obligations under the settlement. Immigration detention centers – including those that hold children and families – are plagued with poor conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care, and pervasive abuses. The agency cannot and should not be trusted to regulate itself.

Many – if not most – of the children in immigration custody come to the United States seeking safe haven from horrific violence and persecution in their home countries. The new proposed regulations would make it more difficult for such children to obtain the protections they deserve. Among other provisions, they would allow DHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement to strip children who come to the United States alone of critical protections that afford them a fair, nonadversarial process by which to seek asylum and related forms of humanitarian relief.

The Flores Settlement was entered into in recognition that all children, regardless of their immigration status, should be treated with “dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.” DHS’ proposed regulations mark a complete abandonment of this principle and a shameful abdication of our country’s most basic obligations to children. Child immigrants and asylum seekers should never be subjected to unnecessary and prolonged imprisonment. We urge all to speak out against the proposed regulations and call on our Congressional representatives to halt funding for the inhumane detention of children and families.


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