White House Makes Its Move Against Flores Agreement on Migrant Child Detentions

The Department of Homeland Security issued new rules Wednesday that would allow the US government to indefinitely detain migrants crossing the border with children.

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

The government now has only between 2,500 and 3,000 detention beds for family units and said any expansion of detention facilities will meet a high standard of care in "campus-like" settings.

The Flores agreement is a constant talking point by the president and his administration, which claims it is a loophole that encourages migrants to make a risky and potentially deadly journey to the U.S. The district judge overseeing the agreement has already refused government requests to increase the amount of time children can be detained, and advocates moved to block the regulations when the proposed rule was first announced last September.

Families typically have to wait several months for their cases to work their way through immigration court, and the new rule would allow DHS to keep those families at detention facilities.

McAleenan also pushed back on nearly immediate negative criticism from 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, who tweeted: "Separating migrant children from their parents is appalling-but indefinitely detaining families isn't a better alternative".

Parents and children coming into the country are often released into the USA while their asylum requests wind their way through the courts - a practice Trump has derided as "catch-and-release".

Border officials said they stopped 144,000 migrants at the border in May, but official figures show illegal crossings have declined since Mexico agreed to a deal in which it uses its security forces to stop refugees before they reach the US border.

The administration is attempting to replace the Flores Agreement with a rule that would expand the amount of time families could remain in detention at the border. The 1997 agreement, reached during the Clinton administration, previously only applied to unaccompanied minors.

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The number of family members seeking asylum has surged this year. One is being used for single adults, and the other two are at capacity.

The new regulation would allow DHS to license family detention centers and aim to override a requirement in the Flores agreement requiring family detention centers to be state-licensed.

DHS officials said Tuesday that detaining and deporting even a small fraction of the families, perhaps 5% to 10% of apprehensions, could send a powerful message to smugglers and would-be migrants in Central America.

The administration has faced harsh criticism of its temporary border patrol stations, where lawyers and internal government watch-dogs reported hundreds of children and families being held in squalid conditions.

"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", McAleenan said.

Moments after McAleenan made his announcement, Madhuri Grewal, a policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, called the new policy "yet another cruel attack on children, who the Trump administration has targeted again and again with its anti-immigrant policies".

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.

Speaking before his departure to Kentucky Wednesday morning, President Trump again cast blame for the current immigration conditions on his predecessor, saying, "President Obama built the cells, the cages that you people talk about and attribute them to me".

As of May 2019, there were at least seven documented instances where children died from illness complications after being held in some of these centers.

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