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The Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997 resulted from a class-action lawsuit filed by two organizations in 1985 on behalf of immigrant children detained by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). It outlined the standards for the detention and release of unaccompanied minors nationwide taken into the custody of the INS, now handled by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Instituting a “general policy favoring release,” it required the government to house unaccompanied undocumented minors in “the least restrictive setting appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs.”
The agreement additionally stipulates that when minors are first arrested by immigration authorities, the children must be detained only in “safe and sanitary” facilities and that federal authorities must transfer their care to a qualifying adult or a non-secure, state-licensed facility. Critically, the Flores agreement applies to both accompanied and unaccompanied minors in immigration custody.
The government has claimed the Flores Agreement often requires families be separated in immigration detention because minors must be placed in non-secure, state-licensed facilities within days of their apprehension. The government has also tried to modify the agreement several times, including in 2018, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a request seeking to extend how long children can be detained. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee rejected the request later that year.