(CD) - Attempting to change two decades of precedent, the Trump administration announced its intention Thursday to lift court-ordered limits on how long migrant children can be detained—a proposal multiple critics promptly denounced as "Gitmo for children."
The administration said Thursday it intends to enter into the Federal Register new regulations that would allow it to hold families who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border indefinitely, for the duration of their immigration proceedings—a period that could last years.
"Locking up children indefinitely is cruel and heartless, even for the Trump administration," CREDO Action campaign manager Nicole Regalado said in a statement. "It is nothing less than an assault on child safety and fundamental human dignity."
The proposal flies in the face of the Flores settlement, decided in 1997 and reaffirmed in 2015, which states that immigrant children cannot be held in federal detention for longer than 20 days and that they must not be held in "jail-like" settings.
Reports of the plan come months after international outrage forced President Donald Trump in late June to reluctantly end his policy of separating families who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, a policy that was decried as a "serious violation of the rights of the child" by the United Nations. Though a court-ordered deadline of July 26 for reuniting the thousands of families Trump separated has long since passed, as of this week, more than 500 children remained in detention without their parents.
An earlier attempt to change U.S. law to allow the indefinite detention of children was condemned as a "cynical attempt to shift responsibility to the Judiciary for over 20 years of congressional inaction and ill-considered executive action that have led to the current stalemate" by federal Judge Dolly Gee in July.
Immigration cases often stretch on for years, with the average immigrant waiting 677 days to be seen by a judge. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) noted that national medical organizations are among those that have raised alarm over the administration's intent to detain children for as long as it can.
"Both family separation and the detention of children have been condemned by leading medical professionals and the American Academy of Pediatrics as having the potential to cause negative health effects that can last a lifetime," said Rachel Prandini, a staff attorney at the ILRC. "If there were ever a moment for this administration to show just an ounce of compassion in its decision-making, this is it. Instead of eviscerating Flores, which has been the bedrock of the limited rights that children do have and the most important mechanism that exists to allow children to challenge mistreatment, we should be looking for opportunities and creative solutions to take better care of the traumatized, unaccompanied children in our country."
Immigrant rights advocates have worked in recent weeks to draw attention to reports out of the highly secretive detention centers where young immigrants are already being held, regarding the torture and severe neglect that has reportedly taken place in some.
"Trusting ICE with the housing and nutrition of children is a recipe for even more suffering and abuse," said Regalado. "These proposed regulations show that the Trump regime will stop at nothing to advance its horrific goal of deterring immigration by inflicting irreparable harm on children and their families."
[Cover photo credit: Peg Hunter]
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