The Department of Homeland Security and the Trump administration announced a new plan Wednesday that would allow it to indefinitely detain undocumented children with their families while their cases are pending.
The plan, which is expected to be challenged in federal court, would be an effort by the administration to end a 20-day limit on detaining children and families. Administration officials say the limit, which was set after a 1997 settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit, was effectively a green light for undocumented adults to bring along children when entering the United States illegally.
"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 Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said in a statement. "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 Flores settlement had the government agree to hold undocumented children in the least restrictive setting possible, something that was eventually extended to undocumented children who also arrived with their families. When the Obama Administration wanted to hold migrant children who arrived with families in federal detention in Texas, a California judge ruled the settlement also applied to those children, meaning families would also be held no longer than 20-days out of concern for their children's safety.
"In this rule, the Department of Health and Human Services is implementing the relevant and substantive portions of the Flores Settlement Agreement. HHS will continue to protect the safety and dignity of unaccompanied alien children in our custody,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
President Trump tweeted a quote from the president of the National Border Patrol Council, who said of the proposed plan that it would "effectively end Catch and Release and curb illegal entries."
The new plan is an attempt by the Trump administration to remove the cap on family detentions, rather than separating families by placing parents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and children at facilities that have been licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The new rule would allow the administration to license and monitor detention centers where children would be held with their parents until their immigration case can be heard by a judge - a process that often takes months.
Photo: Getty Images