Is president Trump sending a signal that his efforts to fulfill his immigration platform are far from over?
The White House announced on Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security is issuing a new regulation that would allow migrant families to be detained until their legal claims for asylum are completed — thereby combatting the current practice of catch-and-release and reducing the incentive for illegal border crossings.
The regulation overrules the Flores agreement, a long-standing court order that said illegal-alien children apprehended at the border cannot be held in detention for more than 20 days.
The consequence of the Flores agreement, named for a court case involving teenage migrant Jenny Flores from El Salvador in the 1980s, has been that immigration officers have been forced to release whole families of illegal aliens into the country after 20 days.
Immigration officials have followed this practice of “catch-and-release” in order to avoid separating migrant families after the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of sending children to care programs while their parents remained in custody was met with mainstream media backlash last year.
The situation has created a dilemma for immigration enforcement, as many illegal-alien family units disappear once being released, failing to show up for their asylum claim adjudication.
And when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attempts to apprehend and deport migrants who have fled their legal proceedings, these operations are met with opposition from media outlets and politicians in liberal jurisdictions.
Flores has also provoked a human-trafficking crisis on the border in which illegal aliens take advantage of the rule by “renting” children and pretending to be their parents in order to avoid deportation.
These children are then often recycled back across the border in order to be used by another “family.”
In just one example of the tragic fate faced by many children along the border, Reuters reported in June of a young girl from India who lost her life to the desert heat in Arizona:
A six-year-old girl from India died of heat stroke in an Arizona desert after her mother left her with other migrants to go in search of water, a medical examiner and U.S. Border Patrol said on Friday.
The girl, Gurupreet Kaur, soon to celebrate her seventh birthday, was found by U.S. Border Patrol west of Lukeville, Arizona on Wednesday, when temperatures reached a high of 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 Celsius), U.S. Border Patrol and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME) said.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan called the Flores agreement a “loophole” in the immigration system. According to the DHS head, 6,000 migrants fraudulently presented themselves as families in the last fiscal year alone.
“Today, the government has issued a critical rule that will permit the Department of Homeland Security to appropriately hold families together and improve the integrity of the immigration system,” McAleenan said.
He added: “This rule allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress and ensures that all children in U.S. government custody are treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability.”
Democrats and left-wing organizations lashed out at the new regulation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote on Twitter that “[t]he government should NOT be jailing kids, and certainly shouldn’t be seeking to put more kids in jail for longer.”
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro vowed to eliminate child detention centers should he become president.
Separating migrant children from their parents is appalling — but indefinitely detaining families isn’t a better alternative.
In my administration we won’t just end family separation for good, we’ll use alternatives to detention and not treat asylum seekers as criminals.
McAleenan said that in addition to ending the 20-day limit, DHS will improve the quality of detention facilities. “The new rule establishes a high national standard for care of children and families in custody,” he emphasized. The change will go into effect in 60 days.
Closing the Flores loophole is expected to reduce illegal migration in another way: Adult migrants will now be unable to unlawfully gain employment in the United States (because they will remain in federal custody), and thus will lose a revenue stream with which to pay their debts to the coyotes who helped them cross the border.
This move by the Trump White House to curtail the border crisis is likely to face opposition in the courts by pro-migration groups.
Should it survive the legal battle, it will be one of the administration’s most important steps toward restoring sanity to America’s immigration system.
Photo: iStock / Getty Images