The Trump administration on Thursday announced a new rule that would allow the government to indefinitely detain migrant children with their parents, abandoning in the process a decades-old settlement that banned the government from holding migrant children after 20 days.
The proposal was put forward by both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services and is scheduled to be published tomorrow on the Federal Register. It would go into effect 60 days after it’s published.
A version of the rule available on the Federal Register’s site says it would “terminate” the Flores Settlement Agreement, which predates the Department of Homeland Security’s founding. That agreement was reached after a case in the 1980s where a 15 year old girl named Jenny Lisette Flores was detained with adults for two months, during which she was subjected to strip searches. Still, the proposal claims the rule change would still “satisfy the basic purpose of the FSA in ensuring that all juveniles in the government’s custody are treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors, while doing so in a manner that is workable in light of subsequent changes.”
A DHS official told NBC News that the average length of detainment for migrant adults awaiting their court cases is 39 days. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported this week, however, the national immigration court backlog had reached nearly 750,000 by the end of July. On top of that, wait times are getting longer as well; according to a June report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, wait times in several cities such as Houston, San Antonio, Chicago, and Arlington, VA, are now more than 1,400 days long “before an immigrant is even scheduled for a hearing on his or her case.”
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In a statement to the network, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen called the ban on detaining children for more than 20 days one of the “primary pull factors for illegal immigration.”
“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,” Nielsen said.
The ACLU, which is involved in ongoing litigation against the government over its family separation policy, strongly disputed that characterization.
“It is sickening to see the United States government looking for ways to jail more children for longer,” ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project director Omar Jadwat said in a statement. “That’s the complete opposite of what we should be doing — 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.”