The 1997 Flores settlement–or consent decree–resulted from the 1993 Supreme Court case Reno v. Flores, regarding the treatment of unaccompanied minors in immigration detention. The class action case was filed by civil liberties and immigrant rights groups on behalf of undocumented minors who were held in detention and their families who reported poor treatment by the INS. After the Court ruled against the executive branch, the Clinton administration moved to create a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, which would set standards for immigrant children in federal custody regarding their detention, treatment, and release. While the settlement was initially intended to be a temporary fix, it guided executive-level immigration detention policies until the Trump administration moved to nullify the settlement through a 2019 regulation. The proposed regulation was blocked by a federal district court for violating the terms of the previously established settlement. The consent decree is currently binding while the administration appeals the 2019 ruling.
The Flores settlement makes it an administrative responsibility to release children from detention without unnecessary delay to a parent or adult relative or licensed juvenile programs willing to accept custody. If temporary detention is deemed necessary for the child’s well-being, the settlement mandates that the government must provide an age-appropriate setting with few restrictions, the ability to contact family, and appropriate standards of care and comfort, including food, water, and medical care. Since 1997, attorneys have regularly intervened on behalf of immigrant children and their families to force the federal government to respect the terms of the settlement.
14. Where the INS determines that the detention of the minor is not required either to secure his or her timely appearance before the INS or the immigration court, or to ensure the minor’s safety or that of others, the INS shall release a minor from its custody without unnecessary delay . . . .