APA Speaks Out Against Administration Effort to Replace Flores Settlement

By http://www.sandiegopsychiatricsociety.org/author
August 29, 2019
American Psychiatric Association
August 23, 2019

APA is speaking out against the Trump administration’s attempt to nullify a longstanding legal settlement that limits the time that migrant children can be kept in detention. 

The Department of Homeland Security today issued a rule that seeks to replace the Flores Settlement Agreement, the federal consent decree that has set basic standards for the detention of migrant children and teenagers by the United States since 1997. The new rule could expand family detention and increase the time children spend in custody.

According to a report in The Washington Post, Homeland Security officials said the rule would eliminate a 20-day cap for detaining migrant children and create a new license regime that would make it easier for federal officials to expand family detention nationwide. The new rule will require the approval of a federal judge.

APA President Bruce Schwartz, M.D., said in a statement that the move will harm children. “A substantial body of research shows that stressful events during childhood can lead to long-term developmental, learning, and health problems, not to mention a heightened risk of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder,” he said. “The Flores Settlement Agreement was intended to protect the well-being of children who are detained by immigration authorities, but the new rule would endanger their mental health by eliminating the 20-day limit on detainment and weakening licensing requirements of detention centers.”

Flores is a 1997 legal settlement of lawsuits filed on behalf of minors by immigration advocates against what was then known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for alleged maltreatment of migrant children. The settlement requires the government to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to their parents, other adult relatives, or licensed programs. It also requires immigration officials to provide detained minors a certain quality of life, including food, drinking water, and medical assistance in emergencies.

“The children and families seeking asylum at the U.S. borders are already coping with the effects of the stress and trauma of leaving their home countries,” Schwartz said. “Compounded by the current conditions of detention centers, we urge the administration to consider the long-lasting, harmful impacts of this policy and withdraw this rule.”

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