New York joins suit to block Trump administration from indefinitely jailing migrant families
New York and 19 other states filed a lawsuit Monday to block the Trump administration from implementing a new policy that would allow federal authorities to indefinitely detain asylum-seeking migrant families.
The suit takes aim at the Department of Homeland Security’s newly announced push to scrap the 22-year-old Flores Agreement, which prohibits the government from holding minors for extended periods of time.
Under current rules, the government has to let asylum-seeking migrant children out of federal detention after 20 days, usually into the custody of relatives or other sponsors on U.S. soil.
But the new DHS rule wants to allow the government to indefinitely keep children detained with parents or other accompanying adults until their asylum claims are resolved — a process that can take years.
“It is not acceptable to detain people — especially and including children — under cruel conditions that fail to meet their basic human needs,” New York Attorney General Letitia James in a statement on the lawsuit, which was led by the attorneys general for California and Massachusetts and marks the first legal challenge to the proposed Trump rule.
The Trump administration touts its edict as a way of ending the controversial family separation policy, under which parents seeking asylum are held separately from their children, who are generally released or placed into the care of the state.
More than 42,000 families, mostly fleeing violence, corruption and poverty in Central America, were arrested along the southern border last month. The July arrest numbers mark a record high for the month, even though they have dropped more than half compared with levels seen in May.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced the rule last week, calling it the best alternative to so-called “catch and release” policy that frees asylum seeking families in the U.S. pending hearings.
He claimed families would be treated humanely but independent watchdogs have found severe overcrowding and poor conditions at detention centers.
Any change in the Flores Agreement must be approved by a federal appeals court judge that oversees implementation of the 1997 deal.
The government also faces a critical shortage of space in family detention facilities that critics say would make it impossible for it to implement the new policy even if it gets a green light from courts.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, recently signaled Congress might not allow for more detention capacity, saying lawmakers plan to tighten future Homeland Security spending so the Trump administration cannot fund "dramatic expansion of interior immigration enforcement.”