- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey to Sue Trump Administration Over Illegal Rollback of Protections for Immigrant Children Held in Detention
Boston — Attorney General Maura Healey is co-leading a multistate lawsuit opposing a new rule from the Trump Administration that would roll back long-standing protections for children held in immigration custody and allow the federal government to hold immigrant children and their families indefinitely.
The lawsuit will be filed today in federal court against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services by attorneys general from 20 states. The new rule purports to codify the terms of the Flores Agreement, which resulted from a 1985 class action lawsuit and established a national policy for the detention, release, and treatment of minors held in immigration facilities. In truth, the states argue, the rule eliminates several critical terms of the Flores Agreement and would allow the Trump Administration to detain immigrant children and their families indefinitely in prison-like conditions.
“With this rule, the Trump Administration is paving the way for ICE to imprison innocent children for indefinite periods of time and is attempting to take away the ability of states to stop them,” said AG Healey. “This most recent attack on immigrant children is cruel, immoral, and illegal and we’re suing to stop it.”
This rule would not only allow for the potential operation of unlicensed family detention facilities in Massachusetts, but it would also cause significant harm to children and families who might come to reside in Massachusetts after being released from such facilities. These children and families may have significant health care and educational needs from the trauma they have experienced, leaving Massachusetts to address these entirely preventable service needs.
The states argue that the new rule contravenes Flores by violating the requirement that children be promptly released from federal custody whenever possible and that they be placed in the least restrictive setting possible, consistent with their best interests. The rule eliminates the requirement that children only be held in facilities that are licensed by state agencies, a protection which the states allege has prevented ICE from subjecting children to prolonged detention with their parents. The states argue that the rule will result in the vast expansion of family detention centers and lead to children being held in prolonged detention with significant long-term consequences to their health and well-being.
Detention causes major trauma to children and can lead to long-term psychological harm. Children and adolescents in immigration detention facilities report increased rates of deliberate self-harm and suicidal behavior, severe depression, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, poor nutrition, regression, and social withdrawal. Studies show that children raised in detention are more likely to drop out of high school, exhibit aggressive, defiant, and oppositional behavior, and engage in criminal activity later in life.
In an attempt to get around the requirements of the Flores Agreement, the Trump Administration began separating immigrant children from their families last year. AG Healey co-led a coalition of 18 attorneys general in suing the Administration over the family separation policy, arguing that it violated due process, equal protection, and federal law, prompting the Administration to withdraw the policy.
AG Healey also has led a number of other efforts against the Trump Administration’s illegal and unconstitutional immigration policies, including challenging the terminations of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status, programs that provide protection against removal for hundreds of thousands of long-term residents of the United States. Last week, AG Healey co-led a coalition of 20 attorneys general in a comment letter demanding that the Trump Administration withdraw a proposed rule that would ban asylum for anyone who travels through a third country on the way to the United States and does not first apply for asylum in that country, and filed a brief opposing the expansion of the “expedited removal” deportation process. In July 2019, AG Healey co-led a coalition of 20 attorneys general on a brief urging protection for children held in inhumane conditions at the border. In February 2019, AG Healey joined 19 attorneys general in filing a brief challenging the Trump Administration’s “turnback policy,” which effectively halted the asylum process at the southern border for thousands of people waiting to present their claims. In June 2018, AG Healey co-led a coalition of 18 states in suing the Trump Administration over its illegal policy of forcibly separating families at the southern border.
Today’s lawsuit is led by Massachusetts and California, and joined by Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Angela Brooks of the AG’s Child and Youth Protection Unit and Chief Abby Taylor of the Civil Rights Division, with assistance from Assistant Attorneys General Mercy Cover and Amanda Morejon.