From the National Immigration Forum: On September 7, 2018, the Trump administration published proposed regulations that would overturn protections for children who the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hold in custody due to immigration laws. The proposed regulation would allow long-term detention of children, ending protections the federal government agreed to in the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which governs the conditions of children held in immigration custody. Additionally, if finalized, they would permit the indefinite detention of families, change the standards of care a detention facility needs to provide for children, and make it more difficult for a child to be released for urgent humanitarian reasons. It is important for members of the public to express their concerns about this proposed regulation because the government must consider these comments as they determine how to finalize the rules.
There is sample language at the National Immigration Forum website above, but I’ve done some of my own research and used it to create my own comment. I’m sharing it here for the benefit of anyone interested in submitting a comment but who doesn’t have the time to do the same research. Please note that you should use your own words as much as possible. You can go through the above website or the government website. I’ve compiled a list of the resources I used at the end.
Since 1997, the Flores Settlement has ensured vital safeguards for ensuring the health and safety of immigrant children held in government custody. The entire proposed regulation/rule– Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children–should not be finalized. It would dismantle our current standards and allow for the indefinite detention of immigrant children and families, fewer legal protections, and questionable standards of care and oversight. It’s doubly concerning that such removal of protections would also apply to asylum seekers who have already suffered high levels of psychological trauma.
This past summer, the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy led to the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their families at the US-Mexico border, and the administration cited the Flores Settlement for forcing it to do so, since under the settlement, “accompanied” children must be released after 20 days in government custody. But the administration’s practice violated the very purpose and spirit of the Flores Settlement, which sought to ensure that all children in the government’s custody are “treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.” The practice of separating children from their parents and other family caretakers caused and continues to cause trauma to vulnerable children.
Dr. Colleen Kraft, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, warned about the profound implications of both family separation and detention in her official statement on 6/20/18. Detention has been documented to harm the physical and mental health of immigrant children. Even short stays in detention can have long-lasting, harmful effects. And the DHS Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers itself recommends the discontinuation of family detention, saying that “detention… of families for purposes of immigration enforcement or management are never in the best interest of children.” Detention is also a deterrent to legal representation. About one third of detained immigrants are held in facilities that are over 100 miles from the nearest government-listed legal aid resource. The remoteness of these centers results in a de facto violation of due process.
Finally, the argument that the solution to family separation is to dismantle the Flores Settlement is a flawed one. Getting rid of the Flores Settlement would not just get rid of the mandate to release children at the 20-day mark; it would get rid of key regulations of the conditions in which children must be held. It would eliminate the legal standards that govern the Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities. It would heighten standards on release for parole for children in expedited removal proceedings, further removing protections to minors ensconced in law and upheld by Judge Gee. It would also authorize DHS to re-detain children without any burden of proving change in circumstances, undermining Saravia v. Sessions. Wherever incarceration is practiced, abuse and trauma exist. This is simply a reality. In May 2017, Project South released a detailed report of the deplorable conditions at two detention centers in my own state of Georgia. My neighbor down the street and several close friends of mine from church have visited Stewart Detention Center, and they bear witness firsthand to the negative psychological toll these detention conditions have on the people incarcerated there. Surely, we as the American people can find the political will to do the right thing, even if it’s the harder thing – to find an alternative to detaining immigrant families – one that still allows the government to ensure that they show up in court. There are proven, effective alternatives to detention, such as the Family Case Management System. It is less harmful to a developing child and more cost effective.
1. Lind, Dara. Trump’s new plan to detain immigrant families indefinitely, explained. Vox.com, September 6, 2018.
2. Lind, Dara. Flores agreement: Trump’s executive order to end family separation might run afoul of a 1997 court ruling. Vox.com, June 20, 2018.
3. “The Proposed Flores Regulations Must Not Be Finalized.” Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative.
4. Kraft, Colleen. “AAP Statement on Executive Order on Family Separation.” June 20, 2018.
5. Kim, Kyle. “Immigrants held in remote ICE facilities struggle to find legal aid before they’re deported.” LATimes.com, September 28, 2017.
6. Project South. “Imprisoned Justice: Inside Two Georgia Immigrant Detention Centers,” May 2017.