The Trump administration is expected to formally release new regulations Friday that would remove time limits on how long the federal government can detain migrant children.
The new rules would end the 1997 Flores agreement which prevents the government from keeping detained minors in immigration custody for more than 20 days, whether they’re with their families or traveling alone. It also sets standards of care and treatment while in detention facilities, including requiring that children are provided with food and drinking water, access to bathroom facilities, emergency medical assistance and adequate temperature control and ventilation, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
“If implemented, the rule will deny asylum-seeking children basic necessities, and they and their families will face indefinite imprisonment,” said Wendy Cervantes, director of immigration and immigrant families at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), in a statement.
The National Center for Youth Law (NYCL) called the move “a call for the mass internment of children” in an official statement shared with The Chronicle of Social Change.
“These rules are nothing more than a ploy to strip basic human rights away from children and they will not stand,” the NYCL statement said.
Even with the standards set by Flores, at least seven children have died in immigration custody in the past eight months. In October, a federal court in California appointed Andrea Sheridan Ordin to serve as an independent monitor to ensure detention centers were following Flores standards.
In a report released by Ordin earlier this year, she described cold, overcrowded cells.
“Minors in detention cells appeared to be uncomfortably cold and wrapped themselves in single mylar blankets while sitting, standing, or lying on the concrete floor,” the report reads. “Many minors were lying on the floor … there are no floor mats provided for sleeping at this facility.”
The Trump administration has been looking for a way to abolish the 20-day detention limit for more than a year, according to the New York Times. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan said the policy has encouraged “an unprecedented flow” of Central American families and children at the southern U.S. border.
The Flores restrictions were at play last year when Trump’s “zero-tolerance” border policy was in effect. To get around the time limits on detaining minors, thousands of children who arrived with their families were separated from their parents and placed into the federal unaccompanied minor program while their parents remained in federal detention. Hundreds — at least — have yet to be reunified with their families.
Changes to the rule were foreshadowed back in May, when the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) removed information about the conditions youth experience in detention facilities funded by Health and Human Services (HHS).
The new rule will take effect 60 days after the rule is entered into the Federal Register this Friday, barring legal action that blocks implementation. According to the Human Rights Watch, legal advocates have already indicated that they will challenge the rule in court.