The Trump administration is taking further steps to ensure legal immigration and lessen the loopholes in the U.S. immigration system.
Released on Wednesday, acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kevin McAleenan issued the new rule “Flores Final Rule,” which will replace the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement that limits a child migrants detention period. This shifts away from that, allowing law enforcement to hold migrant families for longer than 20 days during their court proceedings.
“Today, the government has issued a critical rule that will permit the Department of Homeland Security to appropriately hold families together and improve the integrity of the immigration system,” McAleenan said in a press release.
Here are five things to know about the new immigration rule.
What is the Flores Settlement Agreement?
The Flores Settlement Agreement is a decade-olds agreement from 1977, which requires the government to release migrant children from detention facilities after 20 days with their family or else they’d be separated from their families, as well as ensuring specific conditions.
Labeling the Flores settlement loophole a “magnet,” the Trump administration declared that it is “drawing more and more alien families to make the dangerous journey to our border,” a White House press release reads.
The Trump administration pointed to the massive influx of migrants coming to the southern border. In the fiscal year of 2013, there were a total of 14,855 apprehensions compared to 432,838 apprehensions of family units in the entirety of the fiscal year 2019 so far, with two months still to go. There were 521,090 total apprehensions in the fiscal year 2018.
Border officials have warned of “gaps” in U.S. immigration law.
Border Patrol chief Carla Provost previously noted that the “message is really loud and clear” for migrant family units amid the on-going crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. The message is, “if you bring a child, you’re going to be released into the country.”
Another border official, Rio Grande U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Chief Rudy Karish, previously told “Fox & Friends” that they detained an MS-13 gang member who was a part of a fake family unit. They had intercepted a message the migrant sent back to Central America, “Basically telling them that right now, if you use a child, that’s going to be the easiest way for you to get into the United States.”
“They recognize that there are gaps in our policies,” Karish said.
What does the new rule mean for migrant families now?
The president made it clear in the press release that the new rule would ensure safety in that migrant children remains with their parents during their legal processing at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The administration hopes to combat human smugglers from exploited the current U.S. immigration system’s loopholes, using minors as a “free pass” into the country.
McAleenan believes the new rule will help to deter migrants from using children as a “pawn” to gain access into the U.S., which was a loophole in the Flores settlement.
“No child should be a pawn,” McAleenan said during Wednesday’s news conference. “Or as one gentleman in Guatemala told me, ‘as a passport to the United States.’”
The new rule would shift the detention period for families away from the limit of 20 days before being released into the U.S. to migrant families being held for an unlimited, unspecified time period during their processing.
The new rule is expected to take effect starting in 60 days.
Does the president have support for the decision?
Immigration has been a major topic in the Trump administration, but when it comes to the latest announcement to change the Flores settlement, Republican lawmakers have been relatively silent in comparison to congressional Democrats on whether or not they support Trump’s latest move.
However, looking for a solution for loopholes in the U.S. immigration law, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has previously laid out a plan which includes tweaking the Flores settlement by extending the period of families detained together to 100 days.
Acting CBP chief Mark Morgan told “Fox & Friends” that the president’s move is a “game-changer.” He also said that the time migrant families are detained is “not indefinite,” but around 40 to 50 days.
“This will absolutely eliminate a significant part of this crisis,” Morgan said.
Additionally, Morgan anticipates that the Trump administration will see lawsuits over this new rule, but he’s “hopeful” they’ll get it passed.
“To protect these children from abuse, and stop this illegal flow, we must close these loopholes,” President Trump said in the press release. “This is an urgent humanitarian necessity.”
Congressional Democrats are quick to denounce it.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) wrote in a statement, “President Trump and his Administration are doubling down on their cruel agenda by undermining the Flores Settlement in order to indefinitely imprison families and roll back independent oversight.”
Castro claimed that the Flores settlement is “not a loophole” and called on the courts to “halt this policy before it ever goes into practice.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) shared her strong support for the Flores settlement as is and said, “Any effort to eliminate the Flores Agreement will be met with the most strenuous opposition we can mount.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) condemned the president’s new rule, calling it “a shameless abdication of our basic responsibilities.”
Noting that the Trump administration “can’t just ‘withdraw’” from the Flores settlement, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fl.) criticized the action as being “illegal, inhumane, and disturbing.”
This is only the latest immigration rule change by the Trump administration, as last week the president announced another rule to make migrants“self-sufficient” by considering “public charge” of a person trying to obtain temporary or permanent status, as IJR Red previously dove further into.