|No, Flores doesn’t mandate this. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images|
As outrage rises over the Trump administration’s family separation policy, Republican leaders have been trying to put the blame elsewhere—for instance, on the 1997 Flores agreement. In fact, on June 14 the GOP’s House leadership announced that it had a “moderate” bill that would end the family separations. It turns out the actual text would only end the Flores agreement.
We explain a little about the settlement and its history in Chapter 11 of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers.
Locking Up Kids
In July 1985, four girls ages thirteen to sixteen seeking refuge from war-ravaged El Salvador sued the U.S. government and two private for-profit contractors over their detention. One of the plaintiffs was detained at a facility run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in Laredo, Texas, where authorities subjected her to strip search procedures—including vaginal and anal inspections—every time her attorney visited. The other girls, including lead plaintiff Jenny Lisette Flores, were held at a detention center in Pasadena, California, operated by Behavioral Systems Southwest. The children were not allowed to see visitors, and were not provided with any opportunities for education or recreation.
At the time, U.S. border and immigration authorities were detaining immigrant children—as many as 2,000, according to advocates—together with unrelated adults under prisonlike conditions. The numbers had grown after the government changed its policy in September 1984 and began releasing unaccompanied minors only to a parent or guardian; previously children could be released to any responsible adult. Advocates said the new policy scared away unauthorized parents, who feared arrest if they tried to claim their children.
Flores v. Reno was finally resolved in 1997 with the legally binding “Flores Settlement Agreement,” mandating specific protections for minors in immigration custody. Some of the settlement’s rules were codified into law over a decade later with the passage of the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Under the Flores settlement rules, unaccompanied minors from Canada or Mexico are generally returned home “voluntarily” after a few days in custody. Children from other countries must be transferred within seventy-two hours to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which releases them to a sponsor or a shelter and provides support services through its Division for Unaccompanied Children’s Services.