The Trump administration on Wednesday announced a new rule that would allow the government detain migrant children indefinitely, in a move that would overturn a decades-old existing legal precedent.
Under the existing rule, known as the Flores Settlement Agreement, undocumented minors detained by the federal government are required to be released from custody after 20 days—a time limit the new proposed regulation would do away with entirely, meaning the government could legally lock children away without any mandated release date while their immigration cases are being settled in court. The new rule, which is subject to judicial approval before it is allowed to go into effect, would also see families detained together, and sets a degree of standards for their care.
“Today, the government has issued a critical rule that will permit the Department of Homeland Security to appropriately hold families together and improve the integrity of the immigration system,” Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a statement released Wednesday. “This rule allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress and ensures that all children in U.S. government custody are treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability.”
The proposal, which is expected to be officially filed in court later this week, comes as part of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to harm both legal and undocumented immigrants. Earlier this month the administration announced plans to deny green cards to any documented immigrant who it deemed could, at any time in the future, become a “public charge” by accessing legal benefits such as food stamps.
“We don’t disagree with detaining children when it’s necessary — namely, if they’re a flight risk or they’re a danger to themselves or others, we agree,” attorney Peter Schey, who filed the initial Flores case, told the New York Times. “It’s the unnecessary detention of child that [the Flores] settlement sought to end. So these regulations really reflect a flagrant disregard on the part of President Trump and his administration for the safety and the well-being of children in the care of the federal government.”
Last month, during a House Oversight Committee hearing, committee chair Rep. Elijah Cummings erupted at McAleenan over the condition of children being detained by DHS, shouting “What does that mean when a child is sitting in their own feces? Can’t take a shower? Come on man. What’s that about?”
According to reports from some border detention facilities, Customs and Border Protection officials were well aware of the appalling conditions in which children were allegedly being held, with the New York Times claiming that agents said “outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children who were being held in cramped cells” and that “the stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing.”