Author: wfulawpolicyjournal

A Not-So-Silent Ending to the Silent Sam Saga

Manning Peeler

           After witnessing almost fifty years of vandalism and protests, Silent Sam fell from its pedestal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (“UNC-CH”) on August 20, 2018.  In the following months, much of the protest and debate surrounding the divisive statue subsided.  After the toppling, however, UNC-CH and the UNC Board of Governors (“UNC BOG”) still faced an important question: What to do with this fallen statue now? In a recent settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans (“SCV”), the UNC BOG sold the statue to the SCV and paid a significant sum of money to the SCV to limit potential future protests. On January 8, 2020, the Daily Tar Heel (“DTH”), the student newspaper at UNC-CH, sued the UNC BOG, claiming that it negotiated the settlement in violation of the Open Meetings Act and questioned the suspiciously silent ending to this saga.

            The North Carolina Open Meetings Act sets out standards under which public bodies of the state of North Carolina must conduct meetings to ensure that the public can access the information and discussions.[1] An exception to the open meetings requirement exists when a body consults with an attorney about a proposed settlement of a claim.[2] When meeting in closed session, the public body must keep an account of the discussion and reasonably later make it public record unless “public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session.”[3]

            In a suit filed on January 8, 2020, the DTH sued the UNC BOG, claiming that the information regarding the SCV settlements was not properly released to the public as required by the Open Meetings Act.[4] In an open session, Chairman Harry Smith assigned five UNC BOG members to work with UNC-CH to revise the University’s plan for the monument. The Committee met almost entirely in closed session on November 27, 2019, and it approved a settlement of a lawsuit between the SCV, the UNC System, and the UNC BOG. This settlement included that (1) the monument would be transferred to the SCV, (2) the UNC BOG would create a $2.5 million trust for its preservation, and (3) the monument could not be located in any county containing a UNC constituent institution.

            The Committee members first released information about this settlement in a December 16, 2019 op-ed piece in the Raleigh News & Observer.[5] The op-ed also made the first public mention of another agreement with the SCV that limited the SCV’s ability to display banners on university campuses in exchange for $74,999 from the UNC BOG. The DTH argued that, because the Committee did not release any of its meeting’s contents until three weeks after the settlement’s completion, it violated the Open Meetings Act, and the Court should render the Committee’s actions void.

           Opponents of the settlement have been vocal. The UNC-CH faculty quickly expressed its opposition; students at UNC-CH began on-campus protests; and a group of eighty-eight prominent alumni and donors filed an amicus curiae brief urging the judge to set aside the settlement because it was a “misuse of university funds” that “seriously damages the reputation of the University, which should be committed to historical truth and opposed to modern-day white supremacy.”[6] A UNC-CH law professor noted that “[Judge Allen Baddour] clearly has been following what’s been going on in the public commentary about what he did a few weeks ago, and he appears to be somewhat concerned about it.”[7] After initially approving the settlement, Judge Baddour vacated the SCV-UNC BOG settlement on February 12, 2020 because of the SCV’s lack of standing to file suit and have a court-ordered settlement on this matter.[8] Without groups such as the DTH and the UNC-CH community questioning this settlement, the judge may not have reconsidered his initial approval. Now, the UNC BOG will have to find another solution under significantly increased criticism and scrutiny.


[1] See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.9-18 (2019).

[2] Id. at § 143-318.11(a)(3).

[3] Id. at § 143-318.10(e).

[4] Complaint at 13, DTH Media Corp. v. University of N.C., https://s3.amazonaws.com/snwceomedia/dth/f9fab47e-67ae-4207-9a98-c2aa0ecff218.original.pdf.

[5] Jim Holmes et al., We Created a Trust to Pay a Confederate Group to Take Silent Sam. It was the Best Solution., News & Observer (Dec. 16, 2019), https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/article238369068.html.

[6] Kate Murphy, Prominent UNC Alumni Want to Stop the $2.5M Silent Sam Deal with Confederate Group, News & Observer (Jan. 29, 2020), https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article239768938.html.

[7] Matthew Burns and Laura Leslie, Judge May Reconsider Approval of ‘Silent Sam’ Deal, WRAL (Dec. 20, 2019) https://www.wral.com/judge-may-reconsider-approval-of-silent-sam-deal/18845716/.

[8] Matthew Burns and Sarah Krueger, Judge Throws Out ‘Silent Sam’ Deal, WRAL (Feb. 12, 2020), https://www.wral.com/judge-throws-out-silent-sam-deal/18948287/.

Human Rights Violations: From the Runways of New York Fashion Week to the Fast-Fashion Companies of Today

Henna Shah

Christopher John Rogers, Fe Noel, and Area. Do these names ring a bell? How about Oscar de la Renta, Kate Spade, Cynthia Rowley, or Vera Wang? Last week, designers like these came from around the world to showcase their recent masterpieces on runways across The Big Apple. Welcome to New York Fashion Week!

New York Fashion Week (“NYFW”) is known for its allure, catwalks, and most importantly, clothes. However, in the past decade, the fashion industry has been anything but glamorous. Rather, it has become the center of human rights abuses and allegations.

In 2011, NYFW made the unprecedented decision of canceling a designer’s show.[1] That designer was Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of late Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov. As the former Uzbekistan ambassador to Spain and the United Nations, Karimova’s advocacy for her father’s policies, including those that “imprison[ed] and tortur[ed] political opponents and right activists,” created controversy in the international human rights arena.[2] Specifically, it was Karimov’s policy of “forc[ing] up to two million Uzbek children to leave school for two months each year to pick cotton – a fabric woven throughout Karimova’s designs” that distressed the fashion community.[3] By canceling her show, NYFW publicly denounced the designer and her father’s tyrannical regime, and it became one of the first showcases to advocate for human rights in the fashion industry.

However, as the leaders of high-end fashion made promises to ensure humane garment production, allegations of human rights abuse rampantly emerged in the fast-fashion industry. The term “fast-fashion” refers to the “contemporary fashion trends that change quickly each season”[4] that have “resulted in faster production with lower costs.”[5] Leaders of the fast-fashion movement include companies like Zara[6] and H&M.[7] Although fast-fashion has been able to grow its market presence by presenting more than forty collections annually and selling clothes at low prices to consumers, the massive demand has driven companies to utilize “sweatshop” factory models that violate the International Labour Organization’s (“ILO”) standards.[8] However, due to loopholes in national laws and widespread government compliance deficits, “sweatshop” factories are able to fulfill the demands of fashion’s consumer and capitalistic culture while avoiding legal repercussions.[9]

One of the fundamental labor standards set by the ILO is the basic human right to a living wage.[10] However, for fast-fashion industry workers, wages often do not meet the legal standards.[11] In fact, workers frequently face threats of wage cuts and dismissal from managers demanding overtime.[12] Unfortunately, workers have very few remedies to combat these abuses. In some factories, workers are forced to work in unsafe, cramped spaces and are beaten by managers for failing to meet unrealistically high quotas. For instance, in the infamous 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory incident, workers were trapped and forced to continue production as the building collapsed on them.[13] This tragedy is the deadliest disaster in the fashion industry’s history, as it killed over 1,000 workers and injured about 2,500 more.[14]

Furthermore, the fast-fashion industry perpetuates gender discrimination.[15] Since women constitute the majority of the workforce in the garment industry, they are disproportionally affected by production-related human rights violations.[16] A survey by the German Institute for Human Rights found that fourteen percent of women workers in Bangalore reported previous incidents of sexual harassment or rape.[17] Additionally, sixty percent reported being intimidated or threatened with violence and forty to fifty percent reported experiences of humiliation and verbal abuse.[18]

Likewise, child labor remains a problem within the fashion industry. It is estimated that 16.7 million children in South Asia produce clothing.[19] The dismal working conditions of “sweatshops” have negatively affected these children’s development and health.

Fashion may not be everyone’s forte and we may not all agree with style icon Blair Waldorf when she says, “Fashion is art and culture and history and everything I love combined.”  Nevertheless, as the fashion industry continues to grow, it is paramount that we, as consumers, keep it socially conscious and accountable for its human rights abuses.


[8] The ILO highlighted eight fundamental labor standards: (1) 1948 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention; (2) 1949 Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention; (3) 1930 Forced Labour Convention; (4) 1957 Abolition of Forced Labour Convention; (5) 1973 Minimum Age Convention; (6) 1999 Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention; (7) 1951 Equal Remuneration Convention; and (8) 1985 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention.

[12] A report found that ninety-four percent of Cambodian factories violated overtime regulations and dismissed workers who refused to work overtime.

Mindfulness in the Law: How to Foster Mental-Health Initiatives to Improve Attorney Wellbeing

Stephanie Raborn

Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are documented as being statistically higher among members of the legal profession than in other professional industries.[1] Causes of these issues include long work hours combined with a stressful, competitive, and often conflict-oriented environment.[2] Despite the pervasiveness of mental health and substance abuse issues in the legal profession, many individuals are reluctant to seek help, and institutional barriers to accessing help or care are partially to blame. Professionals cite fear of discovery as a primary reason for not seeking help,[3] and in light of articles such as one published on October 9, 2019, titled “Law Grad Who Disclosed Alcoholism as Student Claims Bar Is Now Taking Punitive Action,” it is not hard to understand why.[4] One of the benefits of meditative and mindfulness practices is that such practices do not carry the same stigma as traditional talk therapy, and are therefore more likely to be utilized by those otherwise hesitant to seek counseling from a psychologist or other counselor.[5]

One of the primary ways in which organizations can respond to the mental health crisis in the legal industry is by providing education about and access to mindfulness techniques such as meditative practices, which have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing individuals’ anxiety and stress-responses.[6] The ABA and state bar associations should provide CLE credits for participation in wellness initiatives and education on mindfulness meditation. Additionally, they should educate law schools and their students about character and fitness questions and advise regarding how to best respond if help has been sought. By continuing to require applicants to answer questions related to mental health, state bar associations not only perpetuate the stigma that plagues mental health treatment, but they also erect yet another barrier for individuals to access care or learn preventative strategies for combatting stress.

Law schools should provide academic credit for courses that teach stress-reduction and mindfulness meditation techniques, and law firms should provide and promote resources for employees to access mental health counseling, including non-western practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation. Some employers have begun to provide designated meditation spaces for employees, and firms and schools with the resources should follow suit.[7] Employers with fewer resources can promote the practice by offering something as simple as giving employees memberships to mindfulness-promoting smartphone apps such as Headspace.[8]

In conclusion, the ABA, state bar associations, law schools as well as law firms all have the opportunity to promote true “wellness” in the legal industry. Encouraging professionals to seek counseling as well as providing education and access to practices such as mindfulness meditation would further this aim by destigmatizing mental health issues and ultimately improve not only the lives of legal professionals but also the lives of their clients as recipients of services by healthier and more effective attorneys.


[1] Patrick R. Krill, Ryan Johnson and Linda Albert, Prevalence of Substance Abuse and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 J. Addiction Med. 46, 52 (2016).

[2] Kristin Johnson, Investigative Report: Mental Health Issues and Substance Abuse Threaten the Legal Profession,  abovethelaw.com (May 10, 2019), https://abovethelaw.com/?sponsored_content=investigative-report-mental-health-issues-and-substance-abuse-threaten-the-legal-profession.

[3] See Prevalence of Substance Abuse and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys at 50.

[4] Raychel Lean, Law Grad Who Disclosed Alcoholism as Student Claims Bar Is Now Taking Punitive Action, Law.com (Oct. 9, 2019), https://www.law.com/2019/10/09/law-student-who-disclosed-alcoholism-says-florida-bar-examiners-taking-new-punitive-action-292-54919/.

[5] Katelyn Woolford, Overcoming mental health stigma through holistic healing in Atlantic City, BreakingAC.com (May 17, 2019), https://www.breakingac.com/2019/05/overcoming-mental-health-stigma-through-holistic-healing-in-atlantic-city/ (“Stigma plays a major role [in why people do not seek mental health treatment].”).

[6] See e.g., Sarah Knapton, Mindfulness meditation lowers stress hormone and decreases inflammation in body, scientists find, Telegraph.co.uk (Jan. 24, 2017), https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/01/24/mindfulness-meditation-lowers-stress-hormone-decreases-inflammation/; See also Mindfulness Meditation Training Lowers Biomarkers of Stress Response in Anxiety Disorder, Georgetown University Medical Center (Jan. 24, 2017), https://gumc.georgetown.edu/news-release/mindfulness-meditation-training-lowers-biomarkers-of-stress-response-in-anxiety-disorder/.

[7] See Scott Thompson, The Advantages of a Meditative Space in the Workplace, Chron.com, https://work.chron.com/advantages-meditative-space-workplace-1085.html (last visited Nov. 11, 2019).

[8] Angelica LaVito, Meditation app Headspace on track to double corporate clients, bring mindfulness to work, CNBC. (Sept. 2, 2018), https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/02/companies-are-turning-to-headspace-to-help-their-workers-meditate.html.

Symposium Agenda – Right to Try Laws: The Benefits and Burdens

The 2019 Fall Symposium is right around the corner; check out our schedule of speakers and learn more about their backgrounds below.

November 1, 2019

9:15-9:45am—Breakfast and Registration

9:45-9:50am—Welcome by Dean Jane Aiken, Assoc. Dean Jonathan Cardi, Chris Coughlin & Melissa Temple Malone

9:50am-10:20am—Setting the Stage: Fifty Years of End-of-Life Care Debates

by Dr. John Moskop, Wake Forest University School of Medicine

Moderator:  Dr. Pat Lord, Wake Forest University, Department of Biology

10:25-10:55am—Keynote: Informed Consent in Right to Try:  A Dubious Assumption by Professor Rebecca Dresser, Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor Law Emeritus, Washington University in Saint Louis School of Law

Moderator:  Prof. Mark Hall, Director of the Wake Forest Health Law and Policy Program, Fred D. & Elizabeth L. Turnage Professor of Law

11:00-11:45am—Panel Discussion: Right to Try Issues in Pediatric Medicine and GeneticsDr. Ana Iltis, Professor, Carlson Professor of University Studies, Philosophy; Director, Center for Bioethics, Health and Society, Dr. Michael Kappelman ; Dr. Sumy Joseph

Moderator:  Wake Forest 2L, Madison Alligood, Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy

11:50-12:25pm—Performable Case Study and Discussion on Pediatrics, Genetics, and the Right to Try by Prof. Richard Robeson, Wake Forest University, Communication and Center for Bioethics, Health & Society; and various members of the Wake Forest School of Law Journal of Law and Policy

Moderator:  Prof. Steve Friedland, Elon University School of Law

12:30-1:30pm—Lunch

1:30-2:05 pm— Perspectives on the Role of the Patient Advocate in FDA Regulation by Prof. Jordan Paradise, Georgia Reithal Professor of Law, Loyola University of Chicago School of Law

Moderator:  Prof. Bethany Corbin, Director of the Wake Forest Master of the Study in Law Program, LLM Health Law, Loyola University of Chicago School of Law

2:10-2:40—Payment Models for Access to Unapproved Drugs by Prof. Christopher Robertson, Associate Dean for Research and Innovation, University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law

Moderator:  Professor Simone Rose, Associate Dean for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Wake Forest University School of Law

2:45-3:25 pm—Panel Discussion: The Terms of Trying by Professor Nancy M. P. King, JD. Professor, Department of Social Sciences & Health Policy and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine; Co-Director, Center for Bioethics, Health, & Society and Graduate Program in Bioethics, Wake Forest University, & William Zoffer, JD, industry consultant, former Senior Vice President, U.S. Pharmaceuticals Legal Operations, GlaxoSmithKline and U.S. Department of Justice

Moderator: Suzanne F. Cook, Ph.D, Principal, Epidemiology Associates, LLC 

3:30-4:00—The Right to Try Debate by Wake Forest University Debate Team—consistently ranked one of the top debate teams in the country, the students will be performing a debate that will bring out many of the different arguments relevant to the Right to Try debate.  

4:00 pm—Closing by Prof. Chris Coughlin & Melissa Temple Malone

All registrants will receive a link to the footage from the event whether or not they are able to attend; register now!

Interpreting Signals from Chief Justice Roberts

Adam McCoy

Chief Justice John Roberts has received relentless attention lately as the new potential swing vote on the United States Supreme Court. The entire legal community is looking for indications on how he will rule on a variety of legal issues. The Court has yet to take up many of the most controversial potential issues, however recent decisions do give some indication of how Chief Justice Roberts may guide the Court for the foreseeable future.

Chief Justice Roberts has recently used his vote and opinions to make clear to the legal world that the Supreme Court itself holds the unique authority to overturn precedent from the nation’s highest Court. In June Medical Services v. GeeLouisiana had recently passed a law, which the Fifth Circuit upheld, requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of where the abortion is provided. This law is identical to the law the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt by finding it placed an undue burden on the woman’s right to an abortion. Chief Justice Roberts dissented in Hellerstedt, however when Louisiana passed a law in direct contradiction to that existing precedent, he still granted an injunction to stop implementation of the law. Even if Chief Justice Roberts would prefer the law was different than Hellerstedt, his vote in June Medical Services shows he will likely not let states and lower courts contradict precedent on their own.

Chief Justice Roberts underscored his insistence lower courts follow all Supreme Court precedent by siding with the liberal leaning justices to stay the execution of Bobby Moore in Moore v. Texas. Again, the Chief Justice dissented in the earlier case, which stayed Moore’s execution in 2017 and remanded to the Texas court with instructions on how to evaluate Moore’s intellectual disability. However, when Moore’s case returned to the Supreme Court, he switched his vote and agreed to stay the execution. Specifically, Chief Justice Roberts said the Texas Court of Appeals “misapplied” the Court’s previous opinion.[1] The Texas court “repeated the same errors that [the] Court previously condemned—if not quite in haec verba, certainly in substance.”[2] Chief Justice Roberts had dissented from that previous condemnation of errors, however when the lower court ignored that order from the Court, he switched his vote to force lower courts to abide by existing Supreme Court precedent.

The importance of precedence was reemphasized in Madison v. Alabama, by Chief Justice Roberts joining the opinion of Justice Elena Kagan holding the death penalty unconstitutional when dementia prevents the prisoner from understanding the state’s reason for the execution. Again, the Chief Justice provided the decisive fifth vote by joining with the liberal leaning members of the Court. Justice Kagan grounded her opinion in the Court’s previous decision in Panetti v. Quarterman, which held the Eighth Amendment prohibits executing a prisoner whose psychotic delusions prevents them from understanding the state’s reason for the execution. Chief Justice Roberts dissented from Panetti and disagreed with the Court’s conclusion if the prisoner did not understand the reason for the execution then the execution had no retributive value. 

However, in Madison he provided the decisive fifth vote for Justice Kagan to expand the precedent of Panetti to include prohibiting execution when memory loss is the reason the prisoner cannot understand the reason for the execution. Justice Kagan said the logic from Panetti focused on whether the mental defect, in this case memory loss, had the effect of creating “an inability to rationally understand why the State is seeking execution,” and when that understanding is missing the prisoner cannot be executed.[3] Chief Justice Roberts supported treating this precedent as controlling and using it to decide Madison, despite the fact he dissented in the original case.

These recent decisions indicate that respect for precedent will play a critical role in how Chief Justice Roberts leads the Court in the coming years. Even if the Chief Justice dissented in an earlier case, he will not simply treat that decision as illegitimate, but will require the Court to operate under the acknowledgment of that precedent. Additionally, Chief Justice Roberts has sent the message that states and lower courts must respect all precedent from the Supreme Court, and only the Court can change its own precedent. Chief Justice Roberts is making it clear that acknowledgment and respect for precedent will play a necessary role in how he evaluates future cases and how he eventually decides to cast his possibly deciding vote.  


[1]Moore v. Texas, 586 U.S. ___, ___ (2019) (Roberts, C.J., concurring) (slip op. at 1).

[2]Id.

[3]Madison v. Alabama, 586 U.S. ___, ___ (2019) (slip op. at 12).

Constitutional Standing in the Latest Individual Mandate Decision

Constitutional Standing in the Latest Individual Mandate Decision

Daniel Becker

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate has been a source of continued trouble for the law. NFIB v. Sebelius found that that the individual mandate was constitutional, but only if the Court recast the individual mandate’s penalties as a tax. The Republican Congress then zeroed out that tax with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Finally, on December 14, 2018, the Northern District of Texas found the individual mandate unconstitutional and inseverable from the rest of the law, causing the Judge to find the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. While other authors have discussed some of the odder features of this opinion, this particular article will focus solely on the opinion’s analysis of the individual plaintiffs’ standing. Those plaintiffs may not have met the constitutional standing requirements and, consequently, should have had their case dismissed.

The district court states the three elements of Constitutional standing: 1) there must be a concrete, particularized injury; 2) that is traceable to the defendant’s conduct; and 3) the court’s decision can redress the injury. In this case, the plaintiffs claimed they had a choice between purchasing health insurance or paying a tax. Without that choice, they would not have purchased health insurance at all. Thus, the court found that the plaintiffs were objects of a regulation, the individual mandate, which gave them standing to challenge the mandate. However, the court’s analysis here seems incorrect. The plaintiffs appear to have failed two aspects of the standing requirements: the plaintiff’s injury is not traceable to the defendant’s conduct, and the court is unable to redress the injury.

First, the plaintiff’s injury is not traceable to the defendant’s conduct. As the district court states, an object of regulation normally has standing to challenge a regulation because the injury is directly traceable to the government’s regulation. In other cases—including the one the court cites—the failure to comply with a regulation results in penalties. In that cited case, Contender Farms, LLP v. USDA, the plaintiffs were subject to penalties if they did not comply with the USDA regulations on horse soring. Those penalties included suspension from Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) and the imposition of mandatory minimum fines for violations of the USDA’s regulation. Here, it is not clear what the plaintiff’s penalties were because the penalty for failing to purchase health insurance was a tax of zero dollars. While the court notes that a showing of economic injury is not required for plaintiffs to succeed, there is little evidence of any other injury. Plaintiffs allege the regulation creates a burden on their constitutional rights, but the court never explains how the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were burdened through a regulation that carries no penalties.[1]

Second, and closely related, the district court’s decision does not relieve the plaintiffs from their alleged injury. Typically, redressability of a regulatory injury is easily foreseeable. The plaintiffs are currently subject to a regulatory burden. If the court finds the regulation illegal or unconstitutional, would the plaintiffs’ injury be redressed? If yes, then the redressability prong is met. If not, the plaintiffs lack standing. Here, the court found that declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional would redress the individual plaintiffs’ injuries. This redress includes allowing the individuals to forego purchasing health insurance altogether, which they were always free to do, or purchase health insurance below the government-set minimum standard. Yet, eliminating the minimum standard would not necessarily result in health insurance offerings below that standard. It is just as possible that health insurance would still be offered at or above that standard because so few people would purchase what they consider substandard health insurance, even in the absence of government enforcement.

The district court’s reluctance to make policy is well-founded. An equally applicable canon is to avoid constitutional questions where possible. The court may have had an opportunity to avoid making policy by looking closely at standing and finding the plaintiffs had none. Though the court did not take that opportunity, it may arise again when the case is appealed to the Fifth Circuit.


[1] Note that this could also mean the plaintiffs did not adequately plead their non-economic injury, which could raise Twombly pleading issues. The Court cannot give relief if the plaintiffs did not adequately plead their injury.

Legal Loophole or Vital Protection: Does Removing Safeguards for Migrant Children Go Too Far?

Legal Loophole or Vital Protection: Does Removing Safeguards for Migrant Children Go Too Far?

Victoria Grieshammer

Of the many controversies of Trump’s presidency, the separation of children from their parents during the immigration process may be one of the most acrimonious. Indeed, regardless of one’s politics, it is difficult to think of a more distasteful situation than one where parents and children are wrenched from each other by the government. This is made worse by the fact that this happens during such a stressful event as moving to a new country, especially when such moves are often the result of violence and poverty in one’s home country. The conditions in which the children are kept do not help to ease these harrowing events. These tent cities, as some have called them, do not provide schooling, books or mental health treatment, temperatures can reach up to 100 degrees, and children are there for months, uncertain of their futures.

The crisis has only gotten worse, as hundreds of children have been held in these tent cities for months. Specifically, more than 500 children have been in a tent city near Tornillo, Texas since August. Additionally, another 46 children have been held at that site since June. Aside from the clear abuse of human dignity as well as a public relations disaster, this also violates a two-decades-old court order on the length that minors can be detained. This 1997 court settlement—frequently called the Flores agreement—came out of the Supreme Court case Flores v. Reno. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the agreement originates from previous alleged mistreatment of migrant children by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1980s. Specifically, Jenny Flores, for whom the case is named, was detained at age 15 while crossing the border to live with her aunt. After being apprehended, the 15-year-old was arrested, placed in handcuffs, and strip-searched, all while her aunt was denied custody and Flores was kept in a juvenile detention center.

The Flores agreement requires U.S. authorities to move immigrant children out of the detention centers and into state-licensed shelters, or to parents or guardians, within 20 days. When the families are released together, they are often given GPS ankle bracelets to track their whereabouts until it is their time to go to court. As might be expected, Tornillo, the tent city in question, is not one of these state-licensed shelters. The difference between state-licensed shelters and those like Tornillo is in more than just their titles. Indeed, these state-licensed shelters have such important features as access to schooling and legal counsel. Accordingly, migrant children are being held in these facilities in violation of long-standing precedent that was erected to ensure their health and safety.

This single violation of the Flores agreement is the tip of the iceberg, though. In fact, the Trump administration is in the process of gutting the protections provided by the Flores agreement. Although Trump has stated that he will replace the rule with a similar one that ensures immigrant children are “treated with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability,” it is currently unclear how this will look in actuality. To replace the families’ ability to leave the shelters, the administration asserts that it will build more humane shelters that will house migrants for longer. The administration’s reasoning for eliminating the so-called legal loophole is that the Flores agreement may have the effect of enticing immigrant families to come to the United States with the idea that their children will keep them from being held in detention centers for extended periods of time. This claim is unsubstantiated, though, and is even possibly refuted by data that shows that unauthorized Mexico border crossings have actually significantly declined since the Flores agreement. If the comments on this rule are any indication, the public does not approve. Whether the revising of the Flores settlement agreement will continue to protect migrant children or whether immigration services will continue to repeat mistakes of the past, though, is left to be seen.