Legal Battle Looms Over Long-Term Detention of Migrant Kids

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Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr

President Trump’s move to quell the firestorm over his administration’s separation of migrant families at the border will draw legal challenges concerning the federal government’s obligations when holding children in long-term detention, Politico reports.

“There may be some litigation,” the president said. “Ultimately, we want to see it done right, and it will be done right.” At the core of the legal showdown is the two-decade-old Flores agreement that sharply limits the government’s ability to keep minors in immigration custody and sets standards for their treatment. Most immigrants under 18 must be released within 20 days, preferably to a family member in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the president abandoned his debunked argument that he had no authority to stop separations of undocumented immigrant families at the border, saying he would sign an order to keep parents and kids together, CNN reported. Trump’s reversal came after he faced intense pressure from across the political spectrum and from religious, political and world leaders to halt the separations, which produced days of heartrending news coverage of crying children, some of whom were kept in cage-like detention centers.

“I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure,” Trump said after a frenzied morning in which he huddled with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other officials in a bid to end a worsening political crisis.

Trump and Republican allies in Congress have called for legislation to roll back aspects of the Flores deal. The 1997 settlement resolved a lawsuit claiming that children were being denied proper food and medical care and subjected to unsanitary conditions and danger where housed with adults.

Trump’s new executive order instructs Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ask for court approval to allow the Department of Homeland Security “to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings.” Immigrant-advocacy groups said putting kids in jail with their parents isn’t a suitable solution criminal prosecution of every adult caught crossing the border illegally.

“The president doesn’t get any brownie points for moving from a policy of locking up families and kids separately to locking them up together,” said Karen Tumlin of the National Immigrant Law Center. “I will not hesitate to use every legal tool available to challenge these policies in court.”

Now, liberals will be “demanding that the families be split up. [It] is a delicious position to put them into,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration enforcement. “It’s a politically smart way to approach it.”

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