The Trump administration unveiled new rules Wednesday that would allow officials to detain migrant families indefinitely while U.S. judges consider whether to grant them asylum.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced the new rules in a news conference Wednesday morning.
They are part of the administration's effort to stem the swelling tide of families and unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico, and are certain to draw legal challenges.
Administration officials blame the so-called Flores Settlement Agreement for a spike in immigration, saying it encourages migrants to bring children with them so they can be released into the United States while their court cases are pending.
"By closing this key loophole in Flores, the new rule will restore integrity to our immigration system and eliminate the major pull factor fueling the crisis," he said.
The rules, which will be published in the Federal Register later this week, will take effect 60 days later.
“President (Donald) Trump has made it clear that he’s going to secure America’s border at all cost and this rule plays a vital role in the strategy to restore the integrity to our immigration system and our national security,” an unnamed senior administration official told The Washington Times before the announcement.
Currently, the government can only detain children for less than 20 days under the federal court ordered Flores settlement. Trump and Republicans say the limit encourages undocumented immigrants to bring children to the border in the hope that will increase their own chances of release, reports ABC News.
Changing the rules would allow the government to hold children and their families indefinitely pending their court proceedings, rather than follow the guidelines set in the 1997 Flores settlement. That agreement at first listed specific conditions for holding unaccompanied migrant children, and was expanded later to apply th conditions to migrant children accompanied by family members could be held.
Last September, the administration proposed a similar plan to detain children for longer than 20 days, saying that it had the authority to "terminate" some of the Flores agreement restrictions, including the time limits.
However, the rule wasn't enacted at that time because of the lack of space in detention centers to house the children for longer periods of time.
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