The Trump administration is expected to announce, as early as Wednesday, that it’s moving ahead with new rules that would allow for the longer term detention of families traveling with children across the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two government officials familiar with the plan.
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The government’s detention of children has been limited to less than 20 days under a court settlement known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. President Donald Trump and Republicans have repeatedly blamed the 20-day limit for encouraging undocumented migrants from arriving at the border with children, expecting to be released.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP
Migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, the largest that the Border Patrol says it has ever encountered, May 29, 2019.
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The administration proposed a similar plan in September 2018 that would have allowed the government to detain kids longer so long as they were treated with “dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors,” a requirement under Flores. In that 2018 proposal, the administration argued that it has the authority to essentially “terminate” some of the restrictions outlined in the Flores agreement — including time limits on the detention of children — if it can establish its own regulations.
But that rule was never enacted, as the government faced a massive influx of undocumented migrants at the border and lacked appropriate bed space. It’s likely that the latest version of the plan will be challenged in court.
The officials spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details publicly. Department of Homeland Security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has struggled to respond to an unprecedented influx of undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. U.S. law allows people to approach the border to claim asylum, but the courts have since the 1990s restricted how children should be cared for and limited how long they could be held.
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Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Recently detained migrants, many of them family units, sit and await processing in the US Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas on August 12, 2019.
The president saw a major dip in border crossings his first year in office before the numbers began to soar in late 2018 and early 2019, with as many as 144,000 people stopped at the border in the month of May alone.
Border officials say they weren’t prepared for the influx, and inspectors documented cases of massive overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at several facilities at the border. Several children have died of complications from the flu after being held in these crowded conditions.
(MORE: DHS chief denied mistreatment of migrants while his own agency found otherwise)
In recent weeks, the number of border crossings began to drop slightly following an agreement by the Mexican government with Trump to deploy its own security forces to crack down on asylum seekers. The administration also moved ahead with its plan to force many migrants to wait in Mexico while their cases wind thru immigration courts.
The latest proposal suggests the government has decided to move ahead with its 2018 plan now that its border facilities are less overwhelmed. Still unclear, however, is where the administration plans to put the families, which continue to cross the border in the tens of thousands each month.