Trump administration proposes longer-term detention of migrant families

Posted at 11:14 AM, Aug 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-21 12:14:56-04

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it's moving ahead with proposed new rules that would allow for the longer term detention of families traveling with children across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The government's detention of children has been limited to less than 20 days under a court-approved settlement known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. President Donald Trump and Republicans have repeatedly blamed the 20-day limit for encouraging undocumented migrants from arriving at the border with children, expecting to be released. Administration officials expect the new rule to act as a deterrent measure aimed at immigrant families.

If it withstands review by the judge overseeing the Flores agreement, the new rule change would allow families to be held together in detention throughout their immigration court proceedings. While cases for detained immigrants tend to move more quickly than those who get released, the process can still take multiple months, a DHS official acknowledged Tuesday.

Children and parents in detention could try to get parole or bonded release, an option currently available to some immigrant detainees.

Migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, the largest that the Border Patrol says it has ever encountered, May 29, 2019 (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP)

The administration proposed a similar plan in September 2018 that would have allowed the government to detain kids longer so long as they were treated with "dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors," a requirement under Flores. With the final version announced Wednesday, administration officials said it would replace the standards outlined in the agreement with specific requirements for detention centers set by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Administration officials initially spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details publicly.

Trump has struggled to respond to an unprecedented influx of undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. U.S. law allows people to approach the border to claim asylum, but the courts have since the 1990s restricted how children should be cared for and limited how long they could be held.

The president saw a major dip in border crossings his first year in office before the numbers began to soar in late 2018 and early 2019, with as many as 144,000 people stopped at the border in the month of May alone.

Border officials say they weren't prepared for the influx, and inspectors documented cases of massive overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at several facilities at the border. Several children have died of complications from the flu after being held in these crowded conditions.

In recent weeks, the number of border crossings began to drop slightly following an agreement by the Mexican government with Trump to deploy its own security forces to crack down on asylum seekers. The administration also moved ahead with its plan to force many migrants to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through immigration courts.

The latest proposal suggests the government has decided to move ahead with its 2018 plan now that its border facilities are less overwhelmed. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has released more than 137,000 family members since March of this year, according to the agency. Still unclear, however, is where the administration plans to put the families if more continue to cross the border in high numbers.