Having been stymied in attempts to circumvent the 1997 Flores ruling which set standards for children in immigration detention centers, the Trump administration is proposing new federal regulations with sweeping implications.
The more than 200-page proposed regulation would give the administration much broader authority over how undocumented immigrant children are treated in its care. Publication of the proposal in the Federal Register on Friday will kick off a 60-day window for the public to comment, after which the administration can move to certify the regulations as final.
Some undocumented immigrant children will be kept in detention for far longer than currently allowed. The administration proposes licensing its own facilities (as opposed to state-supervised centers currently in place), along with new interpretations of how to approach parole determinations for immigrant children as well as how to define whether a child is unaccompanied, and thus what treatment they’re entitled to under the law.
The proposed rule says an “outside entity” would ensure standards are met by facilities, but does not specify what that entity would be.
Meanwhile, Pro-Publica Illinois and Mother Jones have jointly published a story based on confidential documents providing an overview of the inner workings and life inside one of the country’s largest shelter networks for unaccompanied minors,
The inner workings and life inside one of the country’s largest shelter networks for unaccompanied minors, including children separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy are revealed. The pictures they paint are a mixed bag, with generally well-meaning staffers coping with traumatized children and facilities at the limit of their capabilities.
The articles provide a rare glimpse of a secretive detention system with children in more than 100 sites across the country. Although the vast majority of children are from Central America and Mexico in sites outside Ilinois, 60% of the minors in the ProPublica/MotherJones shelters were from non-Spanish-speaking countries, including India, Bangladesh, Brazil, and Romania.
The documents include descriptions of serious incident reports filed with the federal government, caseworkers’ notes on family reunifications, employee schedules, daily rosters, internal emails and more.
One 16-year-old from Guatemala said he wanted to “quitarme la vida,” or “take my life away,” as he waited to be released from a Chicago shelter for immigrant children. He was kept there for at least 584 days.
A 17-year-old from Guinea went on a hunger strike, telling staff members he refused to eat until he saw evidence they were trying to find him a home. He was released nearly nine months after he entered a shelter.
And a 10-month-old boy, forcibly separated from his father at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, was bitten repeatedly by an older child and later hospitalized after falling from a highchair. He was detained for five months.
The administration’s proposed rules mirror its arguments in court saying the Flores agreement binds the government’s hands contribute to attracting undocumented immigrants to the country.
In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen labeled the settlement as a “pull factor” that drives immigrants to the US illegally.
“Today, legal loopholes significantly hinder the Department’s ability to appropriately detain and promptly remove family units that have no legal basis to remain in the country,” Nielsen said. “This rule addresses one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration and allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress.”
But critics of the proposal say the changes would end-run requirements put in place to protect children by giving the government the authority to set its own standards to meet its needs.
Language in the Flores settlement requiring that any new regulations “not be inconsistent with the terms”create an opening for plaintiffs in the original case to bring a legal challenge if they disagree.
We can only hope this will be tied up in the courts for a while to come.
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