Still in the wake of a family separation fiasco, the Trump administration is preparing to withdraw from an important immigration agreement.
On Thursday, the administration published a Federal Register notice. The proposal lays out fresh standards for families held in detention together. In order for it to work, the government would have to terminate the 1997 Flores settlement.
Flores, along with other guidelines, governs the treatment of ‘unaccompanied minors in federal custody.’ Under its purview, children can’t be detained alone for extended periods of time.
That, suggests Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, is a threat to national security.
“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,” she said in a written statement. “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.”
If adopted, the administration’s proposal would alter key components of Flores. According to POLITICO, officials would do away with ‘a requirement that facilities holding migrant children maintain a state license for such a purpose.’
While admitting that licensing facilities for children is ‘sensible,’ the federal government would like issue its own, equivalent licenses.
“The goal is to provide materially identical assurances about the conditions of such facilities … and in turn to allow families to remain together during their immigration proceedings,” says the notice.
Along with housing restrictions, the rule would also overturn time lets set by Flores.
Flores only allows minors to be held in continuous detention for up to 20 days. The Department of Homeland Security hopes to win an extension.
POLITICO reports that the judge overseeing the agreement—U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee of Los Angeles—has already indicated that minors can be held in federal custody for longer than 20 days if their parents consent.
Overturning Flores would let the Trump administration resume its ‘zero tolerance’ take on immigration enforcement.
Immigration advocates are concerned about the proposal, saying that Flores is intended to protect children from being harmed in custody.
“There’s a reason we have Flores in the first place, and that is to protect children. Period,” said Philip Wolgin, director of the Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Given any number of recent reports on the abuses of children in immigration custody, we need these common-sense protections more than ever … it’s hard to see how the rules wouldn’t be challenged in court as not living up to the substance or spirit of the agreement.”
But CNN says it may be difficult for the government to control of Flores from the courts. The settlement ‘requires that the regulations “not be inconsistent with the terms”’ of the agreement, meaning that the case’s original plaintiffs could bring the matter back before Judge Gee.
The plan’s publication in the Federal Register opens a 60-day period for public comment, after which the government can move to enact the regulations as operative.