Thursday, September 6, 2018
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration said today it is abandoning a long-standing court settlement that limits how long immigrant children can be kept locked up, and it is proposing new regulations that would let the government detain families until their immigration cases are decided.
Homeland Security Department officials said that ending the so-called Flores agreement of 1997 will speed up the handling of immigration cases while also deterring people from illegally crossing the Southwest border.
The move angered immigrant rights advocates and is all but certain to trigger a court battle.
"It is sickening to see the United States government looking for ways to jail more children for longer," said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "And it's yet another example of the Trump administration's hostility toward immigrants resulting in a policy incompatible with the most basic human values."
The Flores agreement requires the government to keep children in the least restrictive setting possible and to release them generally after 20 days in detention. For years, because of those restrictions, many parents and children caught trying to slip into the country were released into the U.S. while their asylum requests wound through the courts – a practice President Donald Trump has bitterly decried as "catch-and-release."
The newly proposed rules would allow the government to hold families in detention until their cases are completed.
"Today, legal loopholes significantly hinder the department's ability to appropriately detain and promptly remove family units that have no legal basis to remain in the country," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. "This rule addresses one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration and allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress."
Earlier this summer, a federal judge in California rejected a request by the administration to modify Flores to allow for longer family detention. Administration officials say they have the authority to terminate the agreement, but that is likely to be tested in court.
Peter Schey, an attorney representing detained immigrant children under the settlement and president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, said he would oppose any effort to end the agreement "unless and until the government proposes regulations that provide for the safe and humane treatment of detained children and that are fully consistent with the terms of the settlement we negotiated in 1997."