The Trump administration is moving to extend detentions of migrant families for long periods under a regulation announced Wednesday by Acting Homeland Security Department Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
At a press conference at the headquarters of Customs and Border Protection, McAleenan called the measure a significant step towards addressing a humanitarian crisis at the southern border and said it would “provide an expeditious immigration result while holding families together,” according to Politico.
The final rule, which will require court approval before it becomes effective, outlines standards for the care of migrant children and families in the custody of federal immigration authorities. It aims at changing the licensing requirements for family detention centers and removing a 20-day limit on the detention of children set by a judge enforcing the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, according to a senior department official who briefed some D.C.-based reporters on the measure.
The move is the administration’s latest effort to restrict immigration, an important issue for President Donald Trump, and aims to restrict the country’s movement of asylum seekers and dissuade more migrants from crossing the border.
The officials said they are creating a set of higher standards for governing family detention facilities, which will be regularly audited and the audits made public. However, the rules would allow the government to detain families until their immigration cases are completed, which could be much longer than 20 days.
The regulations were expected to be formally published Friday and go into effect in 60 days absent legal challenges.
They are following moves last week to expand the definition of a “public charge” to include immigrants on public assistance, possibly denying more immigrants green cards. Recent efforts have also been made to effectively end asylum at the southern border.
Flores is a constant talking point by the Trump administration, which considers it is an immigration loophole that encourages migrants to make a dangerous and potentially deadly journey to the U.S.
The government operates three family detention centers that can hold a total of approximately 3,000 people, although one is used for single adults, and the other two are at capacity. Officials hope they don’t need additional bed room because the laws would serve as a deterrent.
In May, the Senate Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), introduced a bill that would have extended the time that children can be held in custody to 100 days and required migrants to apply for asylum from their home country or Mexico.
But Democrats opposed the measure, and Graham was forced to change committee rules to move it through the committee earlier this month.
The massive influx of Central American families to the U.S.-Mexico border has vastly strained the system. However, agreements by Mexico to clamp down on migrants heading north and a new agreement with Guatemala forcing migrants to claim asylum there instead of heading north are expected to reduce the flow.
Includes reporting from the Associated Press.