Lawmakers and immigration enforcement officials gathered in a Senate Committee on Homeland Security hearing on Tuesday to discuss a proposal to change the policies surrounding the detention of undocumented immigrant children.
The Trump administration is presently working on revising the rules governing the detention of undocumented children. At present, a 1997 settlement known as the Flores Agreement (from Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292) limits a child’s detention to no more than 20 days. The proposed changes to the policy, however, would indefinitely extend the possible detention period for children and families caught unlawfully entering the country.
Those behind the revisions cite the tremendous case backlog in immigration courts and explain that the new detention policy would give courts the time they need to process and resolve the cases currently in pendency.
Some lawmakers, however, argue that the negative impact such a policy change would have on immigrant children is disproportionate to its expected benefits.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan), voiced his concerns over the effects extended detention would have on child detainees.
“How long is too long to detain a child in a facility?” he asked Matthew Albence, executive associate director at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Albence only responded that he was not qualified to answer the question.
Peters followed up by asking if ICE had read or considered studies on the long-term health consequences that prolonged detention would have on children, to which Albence could only assure that family residential centers are humane.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., asked if either ICE or US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have received complaints of child abuse within their facilities. When Albence and Robert Perez, who serves as deputy commissioner for CBP, denied having ever received such complaints, Hassan raised that there have been whistleblowers from the Department of Homeland Security.
Albence claimed that immigration enforcement is “implementing processes as contemplated by the court in its ruling, which requires that children can be held in licensed facilities” and that the agency has faced difficulties in acquiring that license for most of their facilities.
“Parents who brought their children here, to cross the border, put themselves in this position,” Albence stated.
Joseph Edlow, deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, reports that there are more than 128 new judges to handle the backlog that now stands at over 740,000 cases. He, however, claims that hiring judges is not enough and that the main problem is in the immigration system’s underwhelming facilities.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), points out that they are “throwing up roadblocks when the real problem is that we haven’t invested in a system for adequate personnel to handle these claims.”
If you, or a loved one, are among the many families being separated at the border, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a consultation with Texas immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.