Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan participates in an operational tour of USBP Tornillo Soft-Sided Facilty on Aug. 15, 2019. (DHS photo Tara A. Molle)

McAleenan: New Rule Allowing Children to Be Held More Than 20 Days Will Discourage Immigration

The Trump administration today announced a rule to pull out of the 1997 Flores settlement that keeps children from being held in a non-licensed detention facility for more than 20 days.

The policy breaking with the Flores agreement is set to go into effect 60 days after being published Friday in the Federal Register. It’s expected to be quickly challenged in court.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told reporters today that a “key gap in our immigration framework comes from a 2015 reinterpretation of the Flores settlement agreement” that “has generally forced the government to release families into the country after just 20 days, incentivizing illegal entry, adding to the growing backlog immigration proceedings, and often delaying immigration proceedings for many years.”

He said the new rule “permanently establishes standards of care and custody for children and families,” and said that “the facilities that we will be using to temporarily house families under this rule are appropriately fundamentally different than the facilities where migrants are processed following apprehension or encounter at the border.” There are currently 2,500 to 3,000 beds in the family housing units, which McAleenan described as a “campus-like” dorm-style setting.

“The new rule will ensure that children and families in the care of the government are temporarily housed in facilities that are appropriate for their well-being,” he said.

McAleenan said the rule “will reduce the unprecedented volume of family units” making the trek to the United States “by eliminating the incentive to make the journey.”

“If we have a process that gets immigration results and the vast majority are being repatriated in a timely fashion, that is the message that people will see,” he said.

The acting secretary acknowledged that “obviously there will be litigation” and “we do expect a dialogue in the courts.”

“In fact, this rule contemplates terminating the Flores settlement agreement and, actually, there is a legal proceeding just to do that coming out of the implementation. So we do expect litigation. We do hope to be able to implement as soon as possible,” McAleenan added.

Asked about the risk of the government detaining immigrant children indefinitely, McAleenan said that “the purpose of holding individuals in administrative custody during immigration proceedings is to get immigration results as expeditiously as possible and for those that have meritorious claims to have them released and for those that do not meet the standards to have them repatriated.”

“The rule also establishes very clear parole and bond procedures for the release of individuals going through their proceedings for various reasons,” he added. “So there is no intent to hold families for a long period of time. In fact, we have the prior experience that shows we were able to average under 50 days. That is the intent for a fair but expeditious immigration proceeding.”

The American Civil Liberties Union accused the administration of undermining legal protections for migrants set forth in Flores.

“This is yet another cruel attack on children, who the Trump administration has targeted again and again with its anti-immigrant policies,” said ACLU policy counsel Madhuri Grewal. “The government should not be jailing kids, and certainly shouldn’t be seeking to put more kids in jail for longer. Congress must not fund this.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) accused the administration of breaking the law by terminating the Flores agreement.

“When children have repeatedly died in our care for ailments as simple as the flu, keeping them in indefinite detention defies logic and will lead to deadly consequences,” he said. “The courts must immediately stop this illegal action.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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