U.S. President Donald Trump, makes cards with children on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg)

Trump Administration Proposes New Rules to Detain Migrant Children Indefinitely

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration proposed Thursday to detain young migrants captured illegally crossing into the country indefinitely, an attempt to work around a court agreement that’s guided U.S. policy on the treatment of such kids for more than two decades.

The Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services said in a joint notice of proposed rulemaking that the new policy would “satisfy the basic purpose” of the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement by ensuring that migrant children “are treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.”

The administration has blamed restrictions imposed by Flores, including a 20-day limit on the detention of children, for its broadly criticized practice of separating immigrant children from their parents after families are caught crossing the Mexican border. Its proposed rules would allow the government to detain parents and children, or children who enter the country without adults, for the duration of their immigration court cases which, on average, take years to complete.

“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,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement. “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.”

Amid the family separation crisis earlier this year, the administration asked U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee to extend the amount of time that children can be kept in custody under Flores. She declined, forcing the government to return to its previous practice of catching and then releasing migrant families it detains. Like all the administration’s efforts to modify immigration laws, the new rule is sure to face legal challenges.

The rule would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold families in third-party facilities through the duration of their immigration cases, which can last years. It also would create a federal licensing system for the facilities, since state licensing requirements are “ill-suited,” according to the statement.

There are currently three government-contracted family residential centers, which have a combined capacity of 3,500. The Trump administration had previously proposed detaining families on military bases.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, called the proposed rules “inhumane” and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, also a Democrat, said they were “evidence that the Trump administration has no respect for basic human rights, our nation’s core values, and the rule of law.”

The rule would also limit the release of children in government custody to their parents or legal guardians, ending the practice of releasing children to other family members, including siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles.

As of last week, 497 children remained in federal custody after being separated from their parents by the government earlier this year. Most of their parents have already been deported to their home countries. Lawyers have begun what’s expected to be a months-long process to track down the parents and ask if they want their children sent home or to remain in the U.S. to pursue their immigration cases.

The regulation will be published in the Federal Register on Sept. 7 and be open for a 60-day public comment period.

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