Did a 2015 Flores Court Ruling Increase the Number of Families Arriving at the Southwest Border?

Publication date: 
October 2018
Did a 2015 Flores Court Ruling Increase the Number of Families Arriving at the Southwest Border?

In a recent notice of proposed rulemaking, the Trump administration claimed that the Flores settlement agreement led to an increase in the number of families arriving at the United States’ southwest border. The Flores agreement sets conditions under which the federal government can detain children—including, as interpreted by the courts, that they cannot be held for more than 20 days in unlicensed, secure facilities—and a July 2015 federal court ruling made it clear that the settlement’s protections apply to accompanied, not just unaccompanied, children.

According to the administration, “although it is difficult to definitively prove the causal link, DHS’s assessment is that the link is real, as those [Flores] limitations correlated with a sharp increase in family migration.”

Previous CAP analysis showed that neither the expansion of family detention under the Obama administration nor the Trump administration’s separation of children from their parents at the southwest border have deterred families from coming to the United States. The analysis in this column, additionally, illustrates that the data do not support the administration’s new claims about the July 2015 court ruling.

Despite the administration’s claims, there is no evidence that the 2015 Flores ruling had an effect on the number of families arriving at the border. Using interrupted time series analysis (ITSA), this analysis estimates the relationship between the July 2015 federal court ruling upholding Flores and the monthly number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of families at the southwest border. (The monthly number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of families at the southwest border is a metric used by CBP as a proxy for number of families coming to the border.) The analysis finds that there is no statistically significant increase in apprehensions of families at the border after the July 2015 Flores ruling.