By Careen Shannon
On September 7th, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a notice of proposed rulemaking that would completely gut the protections currently in place for immigrant children per the 1997 Flores agreement.
Pursuant to the settlement agreement in Flores v. Reno, the government is not permitted (with limited exceptions) to detain immigrant children for more than approximately 20 days, and may not hold them in any case in facilities that are not licensed to care for juveniles. This agreement has been critical in maintaining protections for children and families in detention for the last 20 years.
The government is already violating the Flores agreement by detaining children in unapproved facilities and holding them in custody for more than 20 days. However, this rule – if implemented – would completely eliminate these and many other child protections that are part of the Flores settlement. In their recent press release, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) further details the ways in which the government’s proposed rule would strip protections from immigrant children and families:
“The proposed rules would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to jail children indefinitely in facilities it “self-certifies” are safe for children, and rollback basic requirements for how children are treated in custody, including their access to food, education, and even hearings before an immigration judge. DHS’s bid to expand its authority and capacity to hold children in its sprawling network of jails and prisons comes even as the department’s own medical experts and inspector general have reported in recent months that the agency is unable or unwilling to ensure the basic safety and health of people in its custody. In recent weeks, the administration has sought to manipulate the congressional budgeting process to pay for tens of thousands of immigration detention beds, including at military bases and formerly shuttered detention camps, where children and their families could be held under the proposed regulations.”
With nearly 13,000 children currently being held in detention centers around the country, we cannot allow the government to freely carry out further atrocities against vulnerable immigrant youth. Safe Passage Project is reviewing the proposed rule in detail, and is working to identify the ways in which it will uniquely and directly affect our young clients if enacted. In collaboration with other leading immigration organizations, we will fight this proposed rule and continue to advocate tirelessly for our young clients and the thousands of other children whose rights are at stake.