Many women and children from Mexico and Central America waited to see if they would be the next people allowed to enter the U.S.
Many families waiting at the border in Tijuana. Photo by Chris Stone

The Trump administration sought Wednesday to end limits on the amount of time children can be held at detention facilities in order to deter asylum-seeking families.

A new new rule would end the 20-day limit on family detentions at immigration holding centers and would override part of the two-decade old Flores agreement, which outlines a minimum standard of care for migrant children in U.S. custody.

The Flores agreement has been in place since 1997 and is overseen by U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee in Los Angeles federal court.

The new Trump administration regulation is expected to be challenged in court.

“This effort puts on full display President Trump’s callous indifference to the health and safety, indeed even the lives, of detained minor children,” said Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and a lawyer for the children in the Flores case.

“The Trump administration’s plan is certainly to detain migrant children as long as it wishes without having to adhere to well-established standards for the conditions of confinement of minors, delay the release of minors to their families living in the U.S, ignore children’s potential eligibility for legal status under current laws, and deport as many minors as possible without regard for the abuse or persecution they may face in their home countries,” Schey said.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the new rule would help prevent illegal migration by blocking what he called a “catch and release” loophole in which illegal immigrant families are released into the U.S. after 20 days of detention.

Last week, a federal appeals court upheld Gee’s order that the Trump administration must provide basic care to minors at detention facilities.

“Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste and are not sleep-deprived are without doubt essential to the children’s safety,” the panel ruled.

Angelica Salas, the head of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, one of the nation’s largest immigrant rights organizations, said the Flores agreement “was a significant victory for child welfare. We will protect it and challenge the new rules, even as we work to turn these basic protections into law.”

— From Staff and Wire Reports

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.