The White House announced on Wednesday that it would look to terminate court-approved limits on detention of migrant children and families, allowing for indefinite detention. The announcement drew strong criticism from a leading Catholic immigration group.
“These changes would expand the number of children who will be detained and are in direct opposition to the child-friendly provisions in the Flores agreement,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).
Gallagher added that the action “would destroy long-term child protection standards created by our government and the courts.”
The White House’s new rule will seek to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, a court-approved national policy on the treatment of migrants by U.S. government agencies. The new rule must be approved by a federal judge before it can go into effect.
“To protect these children from abuse, and stop this illegal flow, we must close these loopholes. This is an urgent humanitarian necessity,” President Donald Trump stated.
Under previous court rulings, the administration said it had to allow most migrant children and families to leave detention centers after 20 days; a new proposed rule, the “Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children,” would remove time limits and allow for indefinite detention.
The rule would ensure the care and safety of children in detention and protect them from smugglers, the White House said in its announcement; smugglers have been taking advantage of the previous policy by promising migrants a quick release if they were to be apprehended by U.S. law enforcement, and by bringing children and adults together to pose as migrant families at the border, the White House said.
In a press conference, Kevin K. McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, emphasized that the facilities holding families under the new rule are “campus-like settings with appropriate medical, educational, recreational, dining, and private housing facilities.”
However, CLINIC, established by the U.S. bishops in 1988, called the administration’s proposal last September an “abomination.”
Gallagher said on Wednesday that “clinical studies demonstrate that the mitigating presence of parents does not negate or lighten the serious and adverse effect of detention on the physical and mental health of children.” The organization has also said that the administration’s policy would allow it to set the conditions for migrants in detention centers with lesser independent oversight, threatening the due process of migrants.
In June of 2018, a group of human rights officials at the United Nations stated of the U.S. policy of detaining children and separating families at the border that “detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture.”
The number of “family unit aliens” apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has soared in Fiscal Year 2019, the White House says, increasing by more than 300 percent; more than 430,000 “family unit aliens” have been apprehended in FY 2019.