Published: Thu, August 22, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

US to allow indefinite detention of migrant children

US to allow indefinite detention of migrant children

In the wake of the outcry, the Trump administration tried a year ago to supercede Flores and detain migrants indefinitely.

The 20-day limit has been in effect since 2015 as a result of a 1997 court-ordered consent decree after a federal class-action lawsuit alleged physical and emotional harm done to migrant children held for long periods.

The Trump administration is expected to announce, as early as Wednesday, that it's moving ahead with new rules that would allow for the longer term detention of families traveling with children across the U.S. -Mexico border, according to two government officials familiar with the plan.

The new rule is due to take effect within 60 days of filing, but that deadline is likely to slip as it is certain to face numerous legal challenges.

A decades-old legal settlement called the Flores agreement establishes how long migrant children can be detained and the conditions of their detention, generally 20 days or less.

But those facilities are already near capacity, and critics fear families could be held in detention camps similar to those near the border - in which children have been forced to sleep on pads on cement floors with scant medical attention.

Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, a former congressman from a district along the border in Texas, noted in a Facebook post Wednesday that seven migrant children have died in the past year either in US custody or soon after release. It was ruled that the Flores agreement applied not only to unaccompanied minors but also to children who arrived with adults.

McAleenan took pains to distinguish them from the administration's temporary border patrol stations, where lawyers and internal government watchdogs reported hundreds of children and families being held in squalid conditions.

Kevin McAleenan, the acting DHS secretary, cited the challenge of "an unprecedented flow of family units" crossing the southern U.S. border this year, a lot of them from Central America.

At a detention center in McAllen, Texas, there were almost 1,800 juveniles when the entire capacity for both juveniles and adults was 1,500.

Immigration officials have struggled to handle a surge of families and children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America that have at times overwhelmed border officials.

McAleenan said he didn't expect to need more bed space because, together with other efforts to restrict the flow of migrants, he expects fewer people to be coming. Homeland Security officials say by adopting the standards for education, healthy food and cleanliness used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which detains adult immigrants, they are satisfying requirements in lieu of state licensing requirements.

The administration sought to deter migrants past year through a "zero tolerance" policy that separated thousands of children from their parents.

The current law bars long-term detention for immigrant children inside the USA territory without valid visa.

The administration's move is aimed at deterring migrant expectations that they will be released after being arrested by the United States border authorities and able to disappear into the USA population.

In a June 20, 2018, order, Trump ended the separations and directed the attorney general to ask Gee to let the government detain families together "throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings".

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