In a stunning provocation, the Trump administration reportedly plans to announce on Wednesday that it will abrogate a decades-old legal agreement in order to indefinitely detain immigrant families in government custody.
The planned termination of the original Flores Settlement Agreement, a 1997 court order that regulates the conditions and duration of detention for underage migrants, is President Donald Trump’s most aggressive—and most legally suspect—attempt to circumvent legal protections for undocumented children since his disastrous “zero tolerance” policy resulted in the separation of thousands of immigrant families.
The Daily Caller first reported the impending changes to the agreement on Tuesday evening, quoting a senior administration official as saying that “today the administration is closing one of the legal loopholes that has allowed human traffickers and smugglers to exploit our vulnerabilities at the southern border.”
Ending the Flores agreement, the official continued, “plays a vital role in the strategy to restore the integrity to our immigration system and our national security.”
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the status of the agreement.
Named for 15-year-old Jenny Lisette Flores, who fled El Salvador in the 1980s and was detained among adults in dangerous conditions by the Immigration and Naturalization Services—and not for a “Judge Flores,” as Trump once claimed—the agreement created stringent standards regarding the detention and release of undocumented children in U.S. government custody.
Most notably, the federal government is required to release children into the custody of licensed care programs within 20 days, as well as to place children in the least restrictive setting possible, with access to sanitary facilities, medical treatment, and contact with family members.
The Flores settlement has long presented one of the highest barriers to Trump’s immigration agenda, particularly in the context of the administration’s family separation policy. Trump and administration officials pointed to Flores as the reason behind family separation, with then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters in June that “the separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close, and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade.”
The Trump administration has supported legislation that would make it easier to hold kids indefinitely, and has brazenly flouted many of Flores’ key stipulations, including holding undocumented minors for weeks longer than the 20-day maximum, arguing that Flores only applies to unaccompanied children, rather than those who arrived at the U.S. border with family members. (A federal appellate court ruled in 2016 that the settlement applies to all minors, unaccompanied and otherwise.)
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