WASHINGTON (PM) — The Trump administration on Wednesday debuted plans to implement a new regulation that would enable it to keep undocumented children and their parents indefinitely in detention— a maneuver that will certainly be disputed in court.
The yet-to-be-published regulation aims to alter a 1997 court settlement known as the Flores agreement that stymies government detention of children to 20 days. The agreement initially affected only unaccompanied minors, but in 2015 a federal judge ordered it also extended to children who arrived in the US with their parents, thus implementing the 20-day limit to families with children.
The new rule is slated to be published this week in the Federal Register and would take effect 60 days later, though immigration officials expect it will be challenged in court.
If the announced final rule is implemented, it will feasibly result in thousands of families being confined while their immigration cases continue. The ever-increasing immigration court backlog anticipates these immigrant families could be detained for months or even years.
The Trump administration has criticized the Flores settlement for the high quantities of immigrant families arriving at the US–Mexico border, stating it’s an incentive for the thousands of chiefly Central Americans who believe they will be released from US custody if they travel with a child. Being able to indefinitely detain children with their parents while their immigration cases are adjudicated would cancel the incentive, the administration has claimed.
“This single ruling has substantially caused and continued to fuel the current family unit crisis and the unprecedented flow of Central American families and minors illegally crossing our border,” stated Kevin K. McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. “The new rule closes the legal loophole that arose from the reinterpretation of Flores.
“All children in the government’s care will be treated with dignity, respect, and special concern in conjunction with American values and faithful to the intent of the original settlement,” McAleenan stated at a press conference Wednesday morning.
Critics of Trump Administration immigration policies have claimed that the threat of indefinite detention for migrant families brings to mind the 1930s Jewish concentration camps, such as Auschwitz.
At least 24 migrants have died in ICE custody since Donald Trump took office. At least five migrant children have perished in the custody of other immigration agencies over that same period. In a report denouncing the “egregious” conditions at ICE facilities, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found 41 detainees in one cell built for eight, and 155 occupying a room meant for 35. The people imprisoned in these rooms are largely asylum seekers who have not perpetrated any crime.
While these detainees are reduced to torturous overcrowding, thousands of others suffer from torturous isolation. Solitary confinement is used so often in immigrant detention that simply being transgender or having a “bad leg” is rationale to qualify a detainee for a method of punishment that the United Nations deems cruel and unusual. After prolonged periods in confinement, some mentally ill detainees have reportedly disfigured their own genitalia. ICE’s health-services department is “severely dysfunctional,” and its employees’ negligence has resulted in multiple preventable deaths, according to ICE’s own internal memos.
Thirty-seven children who had been separated from their parents were kept locked up in vans in a detention-center parking lot for over 39 hours. Children kept in less blatantly illegal confines recently lost admittance to classes, recreational activities, and legal aid, after the Trump administration ordered the dissolution of such services on monetary reasoning. There are approximately 50,000 people currently detained in ICE facilities, as of June 30th, and that figure is expected to “swell indefinitely.”
The administration’s official rationale for reducing asylum seekers to extensive detention is that such a “catch and release” policy would allow mere economic migrants to flee into the country. And such mass, unpunished illegal immigration would only encourage more migrants to abuse America’s asylum laws.
We know now that Trump’s family-separation policy was conceptualized as a means of deterrence; which is to say, that our government separated small children from their parents (in some cases irrevocably) so as to discourage other Central Americans from availing themselves of their constitutional right to seek escape from the murderous organizations that effectively rule much of their native countries. The President has approved U.S. soldiers to shoot on asylum seekers at the slightest incitement and repeatedly suggested that shooting migrants may be the sole efficient means of preventing them from entering our country. The inhumane conditions are a system. The cruelty is the point.
The border separating the United States from lands dominated by nonwhite peoples has been a site of white-nationalist violence since the founding of our government. America’s southern border is itself an artifact of a war of conquest that our government launched against Mexico — an invasion where American troops committed atrocities against Mexican civilians so egregious they would “make Heaven weep, & every American, of Christian morals blush for his country. Murder, robbery, & rape on mothers & daughters, in the presence of the tied up males of the families, have been common along the Rio Grande.” In the decades that followed, Klansmen, citizen’s militias, and the uniformed officers of the Texas Rangers regularly killed Latinos whom they considered as enemies or menaces to America’s racial order and purity.