Trump Administration Announces Rule to Enable Detaining Immigrant Families Indefinitely

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news.
August 21, 2019Updated: August 21, 2019

The Trump administration announced on Aug. 21 a new rule that replaces the Flores agreement, which has long guided how long immigrant families who cross the border illegally into the United States can be held.

The rule “will allow for termination of” the agreement, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement, allowing the department and the Health and Human Services agency “to respond to significant statutory and operational changes that have occurred since the [Flores agreement] has been in place, including dramatic increases in the numbers of unaccompanied children and family units crossing into the United States.”

“Large numbers of alien families are entering illegally across the southern border, hoping that they will be released into the interior rather than detained during their removal proceedings. Promulgating this rule and seeking termination of the [Flores agreement] are important steps towards an immigration system that is humane and operates consistently with the intent of Congress,” the statement added.

The new rule will change the terms of the agreement, resulting in its termination, and will change the way U.S. agencies care for alien children, both those who arrive with family members and those who arrive unaccompanied. It includes removing the time limit for holding families.

The number of family units entering the country has exploded recently. The number of individuals within family units who Border Patrol has apprehended along the southern border so far this fiscal year reached more than 390,000 by the end of June. Another 37,500 presented at ports of entry without legal documentation. Averaged out, that’s close to 1,600 per day since Oct. 1, 2018.

“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,” said Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the department, in a statement. “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.”

“In this rule, we are implementing the relevant and substantive portions of the Flores Settlement Agreement. … As before, HHS will continue to protect the safety and dignity of unaccompanied alien children in our custody,” added Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services.

The rule was slated to take effect in 60 days. A draft of the rule was published in September 2018.

Epoch Times Photo
Border Patrol apprehends illegal aliens who have just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico near McAllen, Texas, on April 18, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

The Flores settlement forced Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release families that enter the United States after 20 days after a federal judge, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of the Central District of California, amended it in 2015 to include minors who arrive as part of a family unit. The 1997 agreement, reached during the Clinton administration, previously only applied to unaccompanied minors.

That expansion helped lead to the surge of family units arriving at the border.

Some analysts reacted negatively to the announcement, arguing the courts wouldn’t let the Flores settlement be replaced.

“No idea why the Trump Administration believes the judge is going to let this happen,” wrote immigration lawyer Greg Siskind on Twitter.

Others championed the move.

“This fix is arguably the single most important of the series of interlocking actions the Trump administration has taken to address the border influx,” Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Washington Examiner.

“This will make a big difference; one of the main incentives for people to come illegally with kids has been the guarantee of release after no more than a brief detention, and this will untie the government’s hands, and ensure humane treatment of the migrants as well. It was ludicrous that a single, overzealous judge has facilitated this influx, which has caused so many problems in so many American communities, so Trump is right to step in and negate her interpretation.”

Charlotte Cuthbertson contributed to this report.