[Immigration News]
NY AG James: “Every person, regardless of immigration status, is entitled to basic rights and this rule is a clear violation of those rights.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Attorney General Letitia James yesterday joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in filing a motion for a preliminary injunction to block the Trump Administration’s new rule circumventing the Flores Settlement Agreement and allowing for the prolonged detention of immigrant children.

The states filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration earlier this week to challenge the rule, which eliminates several critical protections guaranteed by the Flores Settlement Agreement. In particular, the prolonged detention risked by the rule would cause irreparable harm to children, their families, and the communities that accept them upon their release from federal custody. The rule’s elimination of the states’ role in licensing care for vulnerable children is another serious concern. In the motion filed before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the coalition urges the court to block the rule while litigation continues.

“Every person, regardless of immigration status, is entitled to basic rights and this rule is a clear violation of those rights,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “This attempt to legalize the inhumane detention of children for extended periods not only offends our laws, but also our conscience. We will not allow the Trump Administration to continue this crusade to demonize and degrade immigrants.”

In the lawsuit filed earlier this week, the attorneys general argue 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 could result in the vast expansion of family detention centers, which are not state licensed facilities and have historically caused increased trauma in children. The rule could also lead to prolonged detention for children, which could result in significant long-term negative health consequences. Based on these concerns, the attorneys general argue the rule exceeds the agencies’ statutory authority and violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Flores Settlement Agreement stems from a class action lawsuit filed before 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 described conditions that included the use of strip searches, forcing children to share living quarters and bathrooms with adults of the opposite sex, and prolonging the cruel detention of children by preventing their release to non-guardian relatives. Following litigation that moved through the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government eventually reached a settlement with class counsel in 1997 resulting, among other things, in the:

* Release of children “without unnecessary delay” to their parents, legal guardians, other adult relatives, another individual designated by parents/guardians, or a licensed program willing to accept legal custody;

* Placement of children in the “least restrictive setting” appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs; and

* Establishment of safe and sanitary condition standards for the confinement of children in immigration detention.

Joining Attorney General James in seeking the preliminary injunction are the attorneys general of California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

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