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Trump pushes plan to jail immigrant parents and children together indefinitely

2019-08-23

In this file photo, a woman sits with her sons as they wait to apply for asylum in the United States along the border, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. (Gregory Bull/AP)

The Trump administration is pushing a plan to jail undocumented immigrant families together indefinitely, a move that would effectively scrap a decades-old court agreement over the treatment of children crossing the border.

A new regulation — which faces a certain lengthy court challenge — purports to end the controversial policy of separating parents from their children, even infants, if they cross the border or claim asylum in the U.S.

But it would let the U.S. legally jail all family members, including small children, in overcrowded border detention facilities for as long as it takes to adjudicate their cases.

“This rule allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress,” Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) trashed the rule as a way to punish refugees fleeing violence and repression.

“The cruelty of President Trump’s administration knows no bounds,” he tweeted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also swiftly denounced the plan.

“The administration is seeking to codify child abuse, plain and simple," Pelosi said.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the rule “does not represent who we are as a nation.”

Detention camps where refugees and immigrants are held are largely packed far beyond capacity and a monitor overseeing them has documented squalid conditions, including for children.

The shift must be approved by a federal judge overseeing the so-called Flores agreement, a longstanding legal decision that dictates how immigrant children can be held by the U.S. Any decision is virtually certain to be challenged, and a final ruling could take months or years.

The Flores deal, which McAleenan trashed as a “loophole," bars holding immigrant children for more than 20 days, meaning they must be released after that pending immigration or asylum proceedings.

The government used to simply free the parents too until their cases could be resolved. But the Trump administration has sought to end that policy, which it derisively refers to as “catch and release.”

Advocates for immigrants vowed to fight the proposed new rule, calling it an effort to use children as a pawn in Trump’s politically fueled war on immigrants.

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“The government should not be jailing kids, and certainly shouldn’t be seeking to put more kids in jail for longer,” said Madhuri Grewal of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The White House says the rule would remove a key incentive for immigrants and asylum-seekers to bring children along with them on the arduous journey. Hardline immigration foes believe that if would-be newcomers know their entire family will be jailed indefinitely, they may choose not to come as a family or not to come at all.

McAleenan said most cases would be resolved in an estimated 50 days, although no specific time limit would be included.

With News Wire Services