A federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s plan to dismantle protections for immigrant youths and indefinitely hold families with children in detention on Friday.
These protections have been granted under the Flores agreement, which was the result of a landmark class-action court settlement in 1997 that said the government must generally release children as quickly as possible and cannot detain them longer than 20 days. This is the case whether they have traveled to the U.S. alone or with family members. Children also cannot be held in facilities that fail to meet certain standards of care.
The changes, unveiled in August and primarily aimed at stemming an influx of immigrant families from Central America, would have taken effect next month.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, in a hearing Friday morning in Los Angeles, said the new rules violated the terms of the settlement. Gee issued an intense order shortly after.
Gee wrote that the administration cannot ignore the terms of the settlement just because leaders don’t “agree with its approach as a matter of policy.”
Barring a change in the law through Congressional action, she said, “Defendants cannot simply impose their will by promulgating regulations that abrogate the consent decree’s most basic tenets. That violates the rule of law. And that this court cannot permit.”
The new regulations would have eliminated minors’ entitlement to bond hearings and the requirement that facilities holding children be licensed by states.
The government is expected to appeal.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said last month that the settlement is the driving factor of Central American families coming to the U.S. border.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the administration will continue its work to “restore integrity” to the immigration system. President Trump and his supporters have repeatedly called for the closure of “legal loopholes” that they say encourage people to bring or send their children to the United States and have argued that child migrants often are used in an exploitative way as cover for illegal activity.
“The Department of Justice is disappointed that the court is continuing to impose the outdated Flores agreement even after the government has done exactly what the agreement required: issue a comprehensive rule that will protect vulnerable children, maintain family unity and ensure due process for those awaiting adjudication of their immigration claims,” the spokesman said.