Trump Demands Right to Detain Migrant Children Indefinitely

Currently the federal government can only detain migrant children for 20 days. Photo: Loren Elliott/AFP/Getty Images

In a move that shows the Trump administration is more interested in looking tough on migrants than tender toward children, it is issuing a new rule aimed at getting rid of the current, judicially imposed limits on the time it can detain migrant children, as the New York Times reports:

The Trump administration unveiled a regulation on Wednesday that would allow it to detain indefinitely migrant families who cross the border illegally, replacing a decades-old court agreement that imposed a limit on how long the government could hold migrant children in custody and specified the level of care they must receive.

The White House has for more than a year pressed the Department of Homeland Security to replace the agreement, known as the Flores settlement, a shift that the administration says is crucial to halt immigration across the southwestern border.

The new regulation, which requires approval from a federal judge before it could go into effect and was expected to be immediately challenged in court, would establish standards for conditions in detention centers and specifically abolish a 20-day limit on detaining families in immigration jails, a cap that has prompted President Trump to repeatedly complain about the “catch and release” of families from Central America and elsewhere into the United States.

It is universally assumed that the federal judge whose approval is required (and who put the Flores settlement into place), California-based district court judge Dolly Gee, is not going to go along with this major shift in policy, and certainly not without the federal government showing that it now has suitable facilities for detained families and/or a plan to expedite pleas for asylum and deportation efforts. This gambit, then, is intended mostly to send a message to potential asylum seekers — and of course, to Donald Trump’s nativist electoral base — of the U.S. government’s abiding hostility. But it will also undoubtedly generate fresh protests about the administration’s callous treatment of migrant children, probably one of the most viscerally powerful negative story lines of the entire Trump presidency (which is saying a lot). As the Washington Post observes, this move is going to be wildly controversial and likely won’t achieve its supposed objectives:

President Trump and his officials targeted the Flores agreement after their widely condemned “zero tolerance” policy last year failed to deter border crossings. The policy separated more than 2,700 children from their parents to prosecute parents for crossing the border illegally. Parents went to criminal court and then immigration detention, while their children were sent to federal shelters.

In a June 20, 2018, order, Trump ended the separations and directed the attorney general to ask Gee to let the government detain families together “throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”

Gee declined, calling the move “a cynical attempt, on an ex parte basis, to shift responsibility to the judiciary for over 20 years of congressional inaction and ill-considered executive action that have led to the current stalemate.”

Her reaction to this latest cynical blame-shifting effort will likely be similar. And so its net effect will simply be to raise the already torrid heat suffusing the immigration issue in the 2020 elections, and reinforce Team Trump’s claims that justice for Americans means the ruthless treatment of those wishing to become Americans.

Trump Demands Right to Detain Migrant Children Indefinitely