Changing Flores Standards Unnecessary and Harmful to Families

Statement from Refugees International Senior Advocate Yael Schacher on New U.S. Rule on Child and Family Detention:

“A DHS and HHS rule that allows for detaining asylum-seeking families for longer periods and under different standards than currently required under the Flores settlement is not only unnecessary but also harmful. 

The administration’s rule, set to be published Friday, is based on three false premises: That it is the only option to ensure family unity during the adjudication process; that detaining families will deter others from pursuing asylum claims; and that family residential centers are humane, safe, and even enriching places to detain children.

But all of that has been shown to be false. Humane and safe policy alternatives exist. Instead of being held in detention, which limits the ability of asylum seekers to access legal counsel and harms children’s mental and physical health, families could remain together—without being detained—by expanding the successful family case management system. This could be implemented immediately and would avoid tremendous expense.

Moreover, families will continue to migrate to United States until conditions causing them to leave—including violence and persecution—are addressed. As a federal court judge recently reaffirmed, using detention as a deterrent to seeking asylum is an unconstitutional violation of due process. Under U.S. law, immigration detention is not supposed to be a deterrent, nor did it prove an effective one before the July 2015 federal court ruling confirming the Flores settlement. More fundamentally, seeking asylum at the border is not a crime and immigration detention is not supposed to be a punishment.  

Finally, there have been many documented cases of harmful and dangerous conditions in family residential centers in Pennsylvania and Texas. Discarding the Flores standards and requirements would be a grave moral error, depriving children of crucial protections. Indeed, without Flores, detained children would not be getting soap and toothbrushes. Without Flores, there would be no independent oversight of detention conditions that that have recently caused so much suffering. Litigators must immediately challenge this immoral and dangerous rule that punishes families seeking protection at the southern border.”