The Trump administration released a new federal regulation Thursday that would allow immigrant children to be kept in detention indefinitely.
The proposed change would upend the Flores settlement, a 1997 consent decree that says migrant children cannot be kept in jail-like settings and prohibits them from being held for more than 20 days.
In a statement, Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen referred to those prohibitions as a “legal loophole” and “one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration.” The way the Trump administration sees it, migrant adults bring children with them across the border because they know they can’t be held in detention for very long. The new rule changes this.
Under the proposed change, the Feds would be able to hold families together during the entirety of their immigration cases. The government insists it will still “satisfy the basic purpose” of the Flores settlement by treating all children in custody with “dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.” The administration says the facilities where the families will be held will be inspected by a third-party entity, ensuring that they’re fit for children.
But this reassurance is doing little to quiet critics. “Efforts to weaken or eliminate basic child protection standards by calling them a burden or loopholes, and eliminating their obligations for the basic care of children, is just another example of the administration’s abdication of human rights,” says migrant-rights advocate Michelle Brané.
The Trump administration’s move is likely to land it in court, where the judge overseeing the Flores settlement, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee, has shown little willingness to change the agreement. When the Justice Department recently made a similar attempt to hold children for longer than 20 days, Gee rejected it, calling the move “cynical.”