13,000 Immigrant Children Held In Detention Centers as Trump Moves to Dismantle Flores Agreement

by Vins
Published: Updated:

As reported by Michelle Chen for The Nation and by Telesur, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement has detained more than 13,000 immigrant children. This is “almost five times greater than the nearly 3,000 previously reported by the Donald Trump administration,” according to Telesur. Children from a variety of these shelters have described conditions including “extreme security monitoring, a total lack of privacy, isolation from family and threats from administrators to delay their release for the slightest infraction,” Chen reported. Detained children must also follow extreme rules to avoid punishment. They are barred from any contact with the other children, even if they are related. They are also often deprived of sleep by frequent checks made by guards with flashlights throughout the night. They are poorly fed. Any misstep by the detainees can be invoked as a reason to delay their release.

Under a 1997 legal settlement known as the Flores Agreement, federal authorities had been barred from detaining children in “jail-like” settings. However, as Chen reported, “While the administration is pressing its new plans for indefinite detention, new internal auditing reports have emerged that detail egregious failures by the government to protect the health, welfare, and safety of migrant children in detention, or even to track family members who had been separated by authorities.”

The World Socialists Web Site reports having spoken to several immigrant children about conditions. A 16-year-old Guatemalan, Heidy, who came to the US alone after her mother died and she was separated from her cousin, said, “When I was arrested by immigration, I spent a day in La Hielera and two days in La Perrera.” La Hielera means “the ice box” in Spanish. The term has become slang for the temporary holding cages in which immigrants are kept after being arrested. La Perrera means “doghouse” and is another type of holding cell comprised of chain-link fence. Heidy’s story is similar to those of many detained children. They are often left helpless without family in the US to advocate for their release.

Corporate media sources have covered this issue in a variety of ways. CNN did identify the Trump adminsitration’s euphemism for the centers—“tender age shelters”—and mentioned the financial windfall that detaining immigrants has been for private prison companies. But its report focused on a comparing the immigration policies of the Trump and Obama administrations, concluding with a generalization about the United States’ “broken immigration system.”  The New York Times wrote in some detail about the detention areas in September, but tended to focus on logistics. Neither CNN nor the Times addressed DHS efforts to circumvent the Flores Agreement.


Michelle Chen, “Could the Trump Administration Succeed in Detaining Child Migrants Indefinitely?” The Nation, October 5, 2018, https://www.thenation.com/article/could-the-trump-administration-succeed-in-detaining-child-migrants-indefinitely/.

“US Holding Nearly 13,000 Migrant Children in Detention Centers,” Telesur, September 13, 2018, http://wp.telesurtv.net/english/news/US-Holding-Nearly-13000-Migrant-Children-in-Detention-Centers-20180913-0015.html.

“The View from Inside America’s Child Immigrant Detention Shelters,World Socialist Watch, November 1, 2018, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/11/01/chil-n01.html.

“Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children,” Tahirih Justice Center, September 14, 2018,  https://www.tahirih.org/pubs/brief-analysis-of-proposed-dhs-hhs-rule-on-detention-of-children/.

Student Researcher: Madeline Coyte (Syracuse University)

Faculty Evaluator: Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)