The Trump administration said Thursday it plans to circumvent a longstanding court agreement that governs how children are treated in immigration custody, in part to detain families longer as a way to deter migrants from crossing the Southwestern border illegally. The Homeland Security Department announced proposed regulations that would terminate the so-called Flores agreement that requires the government to keep children in the least-restricted setting and required their release generally after 20 days in detention, the AP reports. The 1997 case that spawned the agreement will almost certainly land back in court. US District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee rejected a request by administration lawyers this summer to allow for longer family detention. The agreement became an issue during a "zero-tolerance" policy enforced at the border to criminally prosecute anyone caught crossing illegally.
More than 2,900 children were separated from their parents, prompting international outrage and scathing criticism over what many said was inhumane treatment of migrants. Officials said children couldn't be in criminal custody with their parents, and were limited in how long they could detain families because of the agreement. The rules proposed Thursday would allow the government to hold families until their immigration cases were completed, a move that government officials contend makes cases go much faster than if families are released. "Today, legal loopholes significantly hinder the department's ability to appropriately detain and promptly remove family units that have no legal basis to remain in the country," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. "This rule addresses one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration and allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress."
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