In early September, the Trump administration announced plans that will allow ICE to get around a longstanding court agreement that provides guidelines for how immigrant children should be treated when they are kept in custody. The administration is looking to detain families longer in an attempt to deter migrants who want to cross the U.S. border illegally.
The Homeland Security Department has proposed regulations that would end what is known as the “Flores agreement.” Under this agreement, the government is required to use the least-restricted setting to keep detained children in. The agreement also required immigrant children to be released after 20 days.
During the summer months, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee struck down the administration’s attempts to extend family detention.
Under the "zero-tolerance" border policy laid out by the Trump administration, more than 2,900 children were separated from their parents. The family separations sparked international outrage and harsh criticism about the inhumane treatment of people crossing the border.
Currently, there are three operational family detention centers run by the government. However, most facilities have reached full capacity. Homeland Security made a request for an additional space to accommodate 12,000 beds for families, as well as space to house 20,000 unaccompanied minors. While the Defense Department has completed legal and environmental requirements, it has not obtained approval for the use of Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas for housing immigrant families. The Department of Health and Human Services must first request space for minor children before the facility can be used.
Under the rules proposed by the administration, ICE would be able hold families until their immigration cases concluded. Government officials claim that this change would make immigration cases move faster than if the families were released.
Speaking about the proposed changes, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said, “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. This rule addresses one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration and allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress."
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