Following President Donald Trump’s hastily drafted executive order walking back his own policy of separating undocumented children from their parents, the Justice Department has formally asked a federal judge to adjust the rule which prevents undocumented immigrant families from being detained indefinitely.
DOJ lawyers have filed a request to amend what’s known as the Flores settlement, which established the rules for detaining undocumented minors, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. The settlement, enacted in 1997, essentially mandates that undocumented children must be released from custody as quickly as possible, and requires family units to be detained for no more than 20 days.
By filing its motion to change Flores, the Trump administration has essentially confirmed that while it’s willing to stop separating children from their parents, it wants to keep families detained together—potentially indefinitely—in exchange. And in doing so, it would potentially scrap, or at least dramatically alter, the accompanying rules regarding how undocumented children must be treated while in custody. For example, the DOJ’s filing seeks to “provide an exemption for ICE family residential centers from the licensing provisions of the Agreement”—a chilling, if ambiguous, request.
So while jailing children with their parents is better than jailing them alone, the idea of locking away entire families without any sort of federal time limit, or regulatory clarity, can hardly be considered an improvement.
Already, more than 2,300 undocumented children have been detained after they were separated from their parents following the launch of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy this spring. The president’s executive order did not include any guidelines for how, and when, those children would be reunited with their families.