Biden Administration Seeks to Partially End Flores Agreement for Migrant Children

The Biden administration plans to partially end the Flores Settlement Agreement, which oversees the treatment of migrant children in custody. The Justice Department will ask a federal judge to terminate the agreement at the Health and Human Services Department while keeping it in effect at the Border Patrol.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Biden Administration Seeks to Partially End Flores Agreement for Migrant Children

Biden Administration Seeks to Partially End Flores Agreement for Migrant Children

The Biden administration plans to partially end the 27-year-old Flores Settlement Agreement, which oversees the treatment of migrant children in custody. The Justice Department will ask a federal judge on Friday to terminate the agreement at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS), while keeping it in effect at the Border Patrol and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Why this matters: The Flores Settlement Agreement has been a crucial safeguard for the welfare of migrant children in U.S. custody, and any changes to it could have far-reaching implications for their treatment and safety. The outcome of this legal battle will set a precedent for the U.S. government's approach to handling migrant children, influencing the lives of thousands of minors who enter the country each year.

The Flores agreement, established in 1997, ensures the humane treatment of migrant children in custody. It sets standards for licensed shelters, including food, drinking water, adult supervision, emergency medical services, toilets, sinks, temperature control, and ventilation. The agreement also requires children to be quickly released to family in the U.S.

The move comes as HHS published a new rule on May 11, which will take effect on July 1, establishing safeguards for child custody. Secretary Xavier Becerra said the rule will set "clear standards for the care and treatment of unaccompanied (migrant) children." However, attorneys for unaccompanied children plan to oppose the move to partially end the Flores agreement.

Leecia Welch, deputy litigation director at Children's Rights, expressed concerns that ending special oversight would prevent attorneys from inspecting HHS shelters and interviewing children in the department's care. While Welch acknowledged that the new HHS rule has "a lot of positives," she noted that it doesn't address unlicensed shelters contracted by HHS, which she considers the most critical piece of Flores.

The Biden administration's move comes amid criticism from both immigration advocates and Republicans over its handling of the border. Border arrests have topped 2 million in each of the last two budget years, including nearly 300,000 unaccompanied children. The administration also plans another rule aimed at denying more asylum claims during initial screenings, a potential prelude to actions for a broader border crackdown.

The Flores agreement has faced challenges in recent years. In 2018, the Trump administration separated thousands of children from their parents at the border. In 2020, an appeals court granted the Trump administration's bid to end Flores for HHS but blocked its attempt to lift oversight at DHS. Now, the Biden administration seeks to partially terminate the agreement, citing the new HHS rule as providing sufficient safeguards for migrant children in custody.

The Justice Department's motion to end portions of the Flores Settlement Agreement at HHS marks a significant development in the treatment of migrant children in U.S. custody. While the administration argues that the new HHS rule will provide adequate protections, critics worry that ending court oversight could undermine the welfare of unaccompanied minors in the immigration system. The outcome of this legal battle will have far-reaching implications for the thousands of migrant children who enter the U.S. each year.

Key Takeaways

  • Biden admin plans to partially end Flores Settlement Agreement, which oversees migrant children's treatment.
  • Flores Agreement ensures humane treatment, sets standards for licensed shelters, and requires quick release to family.
  • New HHS rule establishes safeguards for child custody, but critics worry about ending court oversight.
  • Attorneys for unaccompanied children plan to oppose the move, citing concerns about unlicensed shelters.
  • Outcome of this legal battle will set a precedent for the US government's approach to handling migrant children.