Success and Impact

Courts Block Trump Admin’s Harmful Regulations For Immigrant Children

Art of person yelling with fire behind their head

At a time when former President Donald Trump and his Administration waged a relentless campaign to abolish basic protections for immigrant children and detain them without oversight, the National Center for Youth Law played a pivotal role in preventing the government from terminating the Flores Settlement Agreement and replacing it with harmful regulations.

District Court issues resounding ‘No’ to Trump administration

In August 2019, the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) released regulations intended to replace the Flores Settlement, which has established the minimum standard for the humane and appropriate treatment of immigrant children held in federal custody since 1997. NCYL and co-counsel filed motions opposing the government’s efforts to eviscerate the Flores Settlement’s core protections and terminate the Settlement altogether.

Among other harmful outcomes, the regulations would have allowed the federal government to:

  • Detain children indefinitely;
  • Detain children in substandard facilities without state licensing;
  • Strip children’s rights to judicial review of decisions to detain them in lieu of release to parents and other available custodians, as well as decisions to transfer them from licensed dependent care facilities to a juvenile hall or psychiatric detention facility; and
  • Remove any independent oversight of DHS in detaining immigrant children and instead have DHS self-license and inspect detention facilities.

In September 2019, Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Federal District Court for the Central District of California issued a strongly worded opinion upholding the Flores Settlement Agreement and blocking the Trump administration’s attempts at installing its harmful DHS and HHS regulations.

The court found that “throughout several presidential administrations, the [Flores Settlement] Agreement has been necessary, relevant, and critical to the public interest in maintaining standards for the detention and release of minors arriving at the United States’ borders.” The opinion further held that “The New Regulations … not only do not implement the Flores Agreement, they intentionally subvert it.”

Ninth Circuit largely upholds District Court’s order

In December 2019, the government appealed the District Court’s order, and NCYL and co-counsel filed our opposition. Prominent organizations and members of congress filed amicus briefs in the Ninth Circuit in support of the Flores Settlement Agreement. 

On December 29, 2020, the Ninth Circuit upheld the Flores Settlement and rejected the government’s attempt to dismantle it through inconsistent and harmful regulations. While the Ninth Circuit’s ruling was a tremendous victory, it was not a blanket affirmation of Judge Gee’s order.

Moving towards a better future for immigrant children

In encouraging news, the Biden administration stated in a December 2021 court filing that it will abandon the Trump-era regulations that would have led to an attempt to terminate Flores Settlement protections. 

As Flores counsel, NCYL is hopeful that the Biden administration will embrace this opportunity to partner with stakeholders and create a new regulatory framework that will center the best interests of children and ensure meaningful independent oversight and agency accountability for years to come.