Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued the following statement today after a federal judge permanently blocked new Trump Administration rules that remove significant protections against the mistreatment of immigrant children and families apprehended at the U.S. border:

“The court has stopped the Trump Administration’s attempt to issue itself a license for the cruel and inhumane treatment of children. This Administration’s disregard for the basic human rights of immigrant children and families is breathtaking. Remember, this same Administration recently tried to argue that it’s not inhumane to fail to provide detained children soap, toothbrushes or a place to sleep. I look forward to continuing to fight this Administration’s unlawful and abhorrent policies in court.”

The Administration’s new rules attempted to override a longstanding court-approved settlement — known as the Flores Agreement — that governs the humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody. Washington asserted that the new rules would have unlawfully permitted federal officials to detain children and families in unlicensed facilities without adequate standards of care to protect the safety and well-being of immigrant children. The new rules also would have allowed for their prolonged, even indefinite detention.

The rules would have given the federal government the ability to suspend its standards in the event of an “influx” of immigrants. The rules defined an influx broadly. In fact, many instances of increases in immigration over the last several years would allow the government to suspend even these minimal standards under the rules.

The new rules would also have stripped states of their role in regulating the minimum standards for facilities that house immigrant children for the federal government. They also removed the Flores Agreement requirement that immigrant children be placed in state-licensed facilities or with state-approved foster families.

The Flores Case Background

The current rules governing the humane treatment of immigrant families and children are rooted in a case originally filed in the mid-1980s, Flores v. Reno. An agreement was reached between the parties — and amended several times in subsequent years — that set limits on the length of detention and standards of treatment of immigrant children, as well as guidelines for their release to adult relatives or state-licensed programs.

Litigation related to the Flores case has continued in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, with today’s ruling enjoining the Administration’s latest attempt to circumvent the agreed limits on the detention of children.

Washington’s Case

On Aug. 26, Ferguson filed a lawsuit with 19 other attorneys general in the same district court as the Flores case, seeking to block new Trump Administration rules that would have removed significant protections against the mistreatment of immigrant children and families apprehended at the U.S. border, allowing for their indefinite detention in facilities without adequate standards of care or state oversight.

Hundreds of immigrant children have either been transferred to Washington state-licensed facilities, or released into the state in the last year alone.

As part of the states’ case, Ferguson filed a declaration detailing interviews with immigrant children and teenagers in Washington state facilities, conducted in July as part of Washington state’s oversight authority. The interviews reveal appalling conditions at federal detention facilities. In addition to a lack of toothbrushes, soap or access to showers reported earlier in the media, the children reported extremely cramped cells, younger kids put in cages as punishment and guards throwing food on the ground for children to fight over.

If the federal government’s new rules had been permitted to go into effect, the state would not be able to tell their stories, as Washington would have no oversight authority.

Family separation

The new rules were the latest chapter in the Trump Administration’s intolerant border policies.

On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero tolerance” policy on the United States’ southern border. Instead of making case-specific evaluations of individual cases, respecting due process rights and family integrity, the Trump Administration began prosecuting all possible immigration crimes, detaining all accused adults. The intended and acknowledged effect was the separation of parents and children at the border.

In June of 2018, Ferguson filed a lawsuit challenging the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Ferguson’s case is currently pending before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, along with several other related cases challenging the policy.

The Trump Administration was ultimately ordered to reunite the thousands of children impacted by the policy with their families.

In September of 2018, the Trump Administration published its proposed new rules to override the legal protections for immigrant children established by the Flores Agreement. Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee voiced their opposition to the proposed rules, comparing them to policies in U.S. history that allowed the forced separation of Native American families and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Wing Luke Civil Rights Division Chief Colleen Melody and Assistant Attorney General Laura Clinton are leading the case for Washington.

Lawsuits against the Trump Administration

Ferguson has filed 50 lawsuits against the Trump Administration and has not lost a case. Ferguson has 22 legal victories against the Trump Administration. Thirteen of those cases are finished and cannot be appealed. The Trump Administration has or may appeal the other nine, which include lawsuits involving Dreamers and 3D-printed guns. No court to rule on the merits of the Attorney General’s arguments in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration has ruled against the office.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov