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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Trump Administration Moves To End Limits On Child Detention

 August 21, 2019 at 10:33 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Despite findings that the Trump administration has not been adequately providing for immigrant children in detention, the administration is taking steps to increase the length of those detentions, new regulations that would override the established Flores settlement are expected at the end of the week. The Flores court agreement maintains that the U S cannot hold migrant children with or without their families for more than 20 days. The new regulations would allow the government to detain children and families indefinitely. Joining me to discuss the proposed regulations and reaction to them is KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Nadler and Max. Welcome. Hi. The Flores settlement agreement has been in place since 1997. What does it say? Speaker 2: 00:44 The settlement agreement? A consent decree basically is hold the government to certain conditions. The for the safety and wellbeing of children in immigration detention. Um, it's been modified multiple times most recently, which ended up with the 20 day limit that you can hold children or their parents. Um, it also dictates things like the access to sanitation, access to counselors, access to medical providers, um, things of that nature, which the government has repeatedly gone back to court to try to push up against. So this was settled after 12 years of litigation because this case that this stems from was in 1985 and then eventually the Clinton administration made a settlement and this is something that the federal government has either regretted or pushed back against since then. Speaker 1: 01:34 What are the new regulations the Trump administration wants to issue Speaker 2: 01:38 the new regulations would move those 20 day caps, which is not something that the government always abides by. They often blow right past that 20 days, but they try to keep it in that area to indefinitely for the duration of a family's immigration case. So that would mean if you are applying for asylum, this could change a 20 day limit where you would be released to a sponsor or US citizen sponsor or family member to now months and years. Because these cases take a really long time to get through the courts. And on top of that, the government always has the ability to appeal and then ask for you to stay in detention and ask a judge to allow that. So it really broadens the horizon of how many people and for how long they can be detained. Speaker 1: 02:25 Can New White House regulations overrule a court settlement? Speaker 2: 02:28 That is to be determined. So one thing that has already been filed is these rules were proposed a year ago. The council that originally argued the Flores agreement had already provided to the court their objections to it within the next seven days. They're going to supplement those objections. And now that the rules have been formally published, they're actually going to be formally published later this week. So it's up to the district judge in Los Angeles to make the decision whether these comply with the actual stipulations of the settlement agreement. Speaker 1: 03:03 What does the administration say about why it wants to change the length of time it can detain immigrant children and families? Speaker 2: 03:10 They believe that this is a huge loophole in our immigration system, that because people know if they come with children, they could stay in the country for months, years even oftentimes working, settling down, creating roots in the United States while their immigration case plays out in court. And not only that, have access to a lawyer, which often strengthens their asylum cases because they're able to collect evidence, they're able to actually get legal assistance to navigate this really labyrinth and system, um, that, that it's encouraging people to cross the border to come to the United States. And this is viewed as a deterrent that if you're going to have to spend years in detention in conditions that are less than standard, this will deter you from coming to the u s right. Speaker 1: 03:56 Because we just recently heard about the substandard conditions in which children were being held at ice facilities in Texas. What does the government say about its ability to care for kids in detention if they're going to be held so much longer? Speaker 2: 04:09 Yeah, it doesn't say much. We've heard, um, again and again reports from these office of refugee resettlement detention centers. Uh, for children and for families up to 20 days, which have brought to light bad sanitation, zero access to things like fresh food, people going without medical treatment for quite a while, overcrowding and then things as serious as sexual abuse. And you know, even in some cases, violence by the guards against the children. Speaker 1: 04:40 Now what's the procedure that the Trump administration will have to go through to try to get these regulations in place? Speaker 2: 04:47 So the first step that will happen is they'll go to the district court judge in Los Angeles, Dolly Gee, who controls the settlement agreement. Right now they'll say, these are the regulations because this floor settlement agreement only said that the government would come up with new regulations that would be in line with the settlement agreement. So they'll say, this is in line with this. The District Court judge will most likely say, well, clearly this is not, and then it'll play out in court for a few years. So you'll see, you saw this recently when it came to last week's nine circuit decision that said the government had to provide things like shampoo and soap and toothpaste to children while in detention. This was something that in 2017 the district court had decided, but the government fought it for years in court. So if the district court strikes this down, they will go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where, um, you know, a lot of Trump administration priorities come to die. But it's a bit a much more mixed bag lately. Of course, if it doesn't find success in the ninth circuit, it could go all the way to the supreme court. And ultimately during that entire time you could basically have a situation where people are in legal limbo and it's unclear whether the government will move forward with these new rules or not. Speaker 1: 06:03 This afternoon, Max, you'll be visiting the southwest key facility in alcohol, which houses detained migrant kids and they're planning to protest these changes. Speaker 2: 06:12 They're planning to protest these changes, although the protest itself was planned before this because the southwest key facility in Elko and it has been a source of, uh, reports of very low standards of living for um, migraine children. We're talking about neglect, um, spoiled food. Um, basically, you know, things that we find common with private detention facilities, which has cutting corners, um, lack of access to health care as well as bad working conditions for the people that do take jobs there as well. So, uh, southwest key and El Cahone and all around, they have two other facilities I believe in San Diego County have been sources of widespread reports of neglect. And this is something that people, if we are going to go down a road that ramps up the amount of people in detention in the u s the immigrant families, these detention providers, these private facilities are going to bear the brunt of that. And so seeing how they've already treated the people in their care is something that people want to bring attention to before it's rapidly expanded. Speaker 1: 07:16 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, Max Rivlin, Adler and Max. Thank you. Speaker 2: 07:20 Thank you.

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The move is almost certain to spark a new court fight over the government's ability to hold families until their cases are decided.
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