As soon as Wednesday, the Trump administration is expected to publish sweeping new rules for detaining minors who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, seeking to sidestep or terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement that has determined how the U.S. treats migrant children since 1997, ABC News and The New York Times report. The new rules, a version of which were proposed in September 2018 but never enacted, could allow the government to detain migrant children for longer than 20 days, revise the minimum standards of care children are afforded, and end some of all of the other protections set out in the Flores agreement. Once published, the rules will likely be challenged in court.
Administration officials told the Times that the new rules will maintain the underlying purpose of the Flores settlement and that all children will be "treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors," as required under Flores. Migrant advocates disagree. "The proposed regulations do not implement the settlement," Peter Schey, who filed the original 1985 lawsuit with colleague Carlos Holguin, tells the Times. "They abrogate key terms of the settlement."
In the version of the rules proposed last year, the administration argued it can "terminate" Flores protections if it establishes its own replacement regulations. Trump and other Republicans say the Flores settlement encourages migrant parents to flee Central America with their children so they won't be locked up indefinitely. The Obama administration tried and failed to get out from under the Flores restrictions.
Schey and Holguin have returned to court again and again to enforce the settlement, and they've enlisted lawyers and law students to visit detention facilities, like the one in Clint, Texas. "It's like we are playing whack-a-mole," Holguin told the Times. "If someone had told me in 1985 that our work to protect children would continue into 2019," he added, "there is no way I would have believed it." Read more about this history of the Flores settlement at The New York Times.