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FOIA Documents Reveal Government Always Knew Flores Settlement Applies to All Children

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Flores v. Lynch, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 12439 (9th Cir. Cal. July 6, 2016)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in Flores v. Lynch that the 1997 settlement in Flores v. Reno, which governs the detention, treatment and release of immigrant children, covers both unaccompanied and accompanied minors. In Flores v. Lynch, the court determined that the plain language of the settlement agreement also covered accompanied minors because: 1) the settlement defined the class as all minors who were detained in the legal custody of the INS; 2) the settlement provided special guidelines with respect to unaccompanied minors in some situations; and 3) the settlement expressly identified those minors to whom the class definition would not have applied.

This was a direct repudiation of the position the government took while defending its family detention policies in court. The government had argued that the Flores settlement applies only to unaccompanied minors. However, documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation by the American Immigration Council, the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, the National Immigration Law Center, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild suggest that the government was previously operating under the assumption that the settlement applies to all minors.

Background on Flores v. Lynch:

In 1997, the plaintiff class (“Flores”) and the government entered into a settlement agreement (the “Settlement”) which “sets out nationwide policy for the detention, release, and treatment of minors in the custody of the INS. The Settlement creates a presumption in favor of releasing minors and requires placement of those not released in licensed, non-secure facilities that meet certain standards.

In 2014, in response to a surge of Central Americans attempting to enter the United States without documentation, the government opened family detention centers in Texas and New Mexico. The detention and release policies at these centers do not comply with the Settlement. The government, however, claimed that the Settlement only applies to unaccompanied minors and is not violated when minors accompanied by parents or other adult family members are placed in these centers.

In 2015, Flores moved to enforce the Settlement, arguing that it applied to all minors in the custody of immigration authorities. The district court agreed, granted the motion to enforce, and rejected the government’s alternative motion to modify the Settlement. The government then appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

For more information on what documents have been found through the FOIA, please go to: http://immigrationimpact.com/2016/08/03/foia-documents-reveal-government-always-knew-flores-settlement-applies-children/

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