Trump officials unveil rule allowing indefinite migrant family detentions

The Trump administration on Wednesday said it would unveil a new rule that would allow migrant families to be held indefinitely, ending a procedure known as the Flores Settlement Agreement that requires children to be held no longer than 20 days.

The decision is a momentous change in detainee policy that the administration has sought as a disincentive for people crossing the border. 

“This rule allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a statement.

Under the new system, immigrant families could be held for the duration of their court proceedings, which officials claim could be resolved within three months.

McAleenan said the new rule takes aim at a 2015 “reinterpretation of the Flores Settlement Agreement” in which a California district court ruled accompanied minors are subject to the same detention limits as unaccompanied minors.

The 2015 change, McAleenan said, “has generally forced the government to release families into the country after just 20 days, incentivizing illegal entry, adding to the growing backlog in immigration proceedings, and often delaying immigration proceedings for many years.”

The Trump administration has frequently blamed Flores for the spike in family border crossings over the last few years, claiming the promise of eventual release creates an incentive to enter the country illegally. On Wednesday, it defended the change as closing a “loophole exploited by human smugglers.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), however, panned the move, saying it will “put even more stress on our immigration system and add to the chaos the Administration continues to create.”

“The Trump Administration has managed to find a new low in its continued despicable treatment of migrant children and families. Terminating the Flores settlement is illegal and goes against our longstanding American values about the treatment of children,” Thompson said in a statement.

The new rule would establish new standards for conditions in detention centers while simultaneously removing the 20-day maximum detention limit that has existed since the original 1997 court ruling.

“Large numbers of alien families are entering illegally across the southern border, hoping that they will be released into the interior rather than detained during their removal proceedings,” the two agencies that created the rule, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

“Promulgating this rule and seeking termination of the FSA [Flores Settlement Agreement] are important steps towards an immigration system that is humane and operates consistently with the intent of Congress.”

The rule will be published in the Federal Register on Friday and will be effective 60 days later — if it is approved by the courts.

However, the process is likely to take significantly longer.

“Obviously, there will be litigation, as you know, all new immigration rules have faced litigation in my career,” said McAleenan.

Under the terms of the 1997 consent decree that eventually led to the 20-day limit in Flores, the regulation must be approved by Judge Dolly M. Gee of United States District Court for the Central District of California, who heard the original case.

Gee, who was appointed by President Obama, denied the administration’s request last year to extend family detentions after a 2015 ruling that officials could not hold unaccompanied children in unlicensed facilities longer than 20 days.

The upcoming litigation means the proposed rule could be significantly delayed or sidetracked in the courts.

“This rule contemplates terminating the Flores Settlement Agreement. And actually, there’s a legal proceeding just to do that coming out of the implementation. So we do expect litigation but we do hope to be able to implement as soon as possible,” said McAleenan.

Trump officials have sought to address Gee’s concerns with indefinite detention by creating a federal government licensing regime which includes public audits of facilities conducted by a third party.

And McAleenan painted a rosy picture of family detention units under the new rule.

“For example, the first family residential center in Berks, Pa., has a suite for each family [to be] housed separately. Furniture, bedding, towels, clothing and toiletries are provided,” said McAleenan.

He added the facilities would include medical care and educational wings, as well as leisure activities for detainees.

But DHS has bed space for 2,500 to 3,000 individuals in family units at current funding levels, a fraction of the number of Central Americans who claim asylum every month.

McAleenan blamed Congress, where Democrats worked to limit the administration’s capability to detain immigrants, for the limited facilities.

“Just a quick reminder, we did ask Congress for additional family beds in the 2019 budget process and the supplemental, and we did not receive them. So I think that’s important to recall,” said McAleenan.

Additional legal challenges to the rule are likely from immigration advocacy groups.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought several Trump administration immigration policies, slammed the rule as “yet another cruel attack on children.”

“The government should NOT be jailing kids, and certainly shouldn’t be seeking to put more kids in jail for longer,” the group tweeted.

“This is yet another cruel attack on children, who this administration has targeted again and again with its anti-immigrant policies.”

McAleenan said the “multihundred-page rule” would preserve the original intent of Flores, granting asylum-seeking families a safe place to live while their cases go through immigration courts.

The rule comes amid a flood of federal action to limit both legal and illegal immigration, and another lengthy rule to submit documented immigrants to a “public charge” test that’s been shown to be rife with inconsistencies.

That rule would make a receipt of public benefits, like food stamps or Medicaid, a negative factor when considering a noncitizen’s application for a visa or green card.

Earlier in the summer, the administration announced a rule expanding authority for expedited deportation, where immigration cases are not reviewed by judges, from within 100 miles of the border to anywhere in the U.S.

It also promulgated a rule which would deny asylum claims for immigrants who pass through another country before reaching the southern border.

All of those moves, which experts say would severely limit immigration, face legal challenges.

[The Hill]

Immigration Chief: ‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor Who Can Stand On Their Own 2 Feet’

“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Tuesday, twisting Emma Lazarus’ famous words on a bronze plaque at the Statue of Liberty.

Cuccinelli was speaking to NPR’s Morning Edition about a new regulation he announced Monday that targets legal immigration. The rule denies green cards and visas to immigrants if they use — or are deemed likely to need — federal, state and local government benefits including food stamps, housing vouchers and Medicaid. The change stands to impact hundreds of thousands of immigrants who come to the United States legally every year.

The final version of the “public charge” rule is scheduled to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register. A public charge refers to a person who relies on public assistance for help.

On Tuesday, Cuccinelli described the public charge as a “burden on the government.” He told NPR the new regulation was a prospective rule, “part of President Trump keeping his promises.”

The new rule will go into effect Oct. 15, and only government aid used after that point will be assessed, Cuccinelli said.

Welfare benefits will be just one factor that immigration service officers use to determine an applicant’s fate in the United States, in addition to age, health, education and financial status.

“If they don’t have future prospects of being legal permanent residents without welfare, that will be counted against them,” Cuccinelli said.

“All immigrants who can stand on their own two feet, self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps” would be welcome, he added.

Asked if that changes the definition of the American dream, Cuccinelli said, “No one has a right to become an American who isn’t born here as an American.”

Then he clarified: “It is a privilege to become an American, not a right for anybody who is not already an American citizen, that’s what I was referring to.”

He said the welcoming words from the 1903 plaque at the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor,” were put there “at almost the same time” as when the first public charge law was passed — in 1882.

Critics have denounced the rule as a sweeping attempt to stem immigration and favor wealthy migrants. The regulation is expected to be challenged by immigration groups in court.

Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration, said the case could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I also expect lawsuits from individuals who say that, at the end of the day, if Congress provided certain benefits to be accessible by certain groups of immigrants, that meant that they did not want them then banned under the public charge rule,” Fresco told NPR.

Rumors that the Trump administration was considering the regulation already led to a chilling effect on immigrants looking to put down roots through legal and permanent residency. Public health and social service providers report that immigrants are worried about seeking medical and housing aid for themselves and their children, who may be U.S. citizens.

Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, has long held a hard-line stance against immigration and asylum policies. President Trump tapped him to be the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in June, bringing him to the helm of an agency he had never worked in.

[NPR]

Trump Just Strong-Armed Guatemala Into a “Safe Third Country” Agreement.

The United States and Guatemala have reached a deal that has the potential to end most asylum seekers’ ability to seek protection at the US-Mexico border.

Under an agreement announced Friday afternoon, asylum seekers who travel through Guatemala on their way to the United States would be returned to Guatemala and forced to seek protection there. That would largely block Salvadorans and Hondurans from receiving asylum in the United States, as well as large numbers of asylum seekers from around the world who travel by land to the US border after flying to South America. Instead, only Mexicans and Guatemalans would be able to seek protection at the border.

The agreement would not apply to children who arrive at the border alone and would remain in effect for two years, according to a copy released by the Guatemalan government (in Spanish).

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said on a press call that he expects the deal, which is known as a safe third country agreement, to take effect in the next few weeks. Earlier this month, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court blocked President Jimmy Morales from unilaterally signing such an agreement. It is still not clear how Morales’ administrations plans to get around that. 

Beyond that it is unclear how Guatemala—which has become the leading sending country of migrants to the United States under Trump—plans to provide refuge for the thousands of asylum seekers who could arrive from El Salvador, Honduras, and elsewhere. As the Washington Post‘s Mexico and Central America bureau chief, Kevin Sieff, pointed out on Twitter, Guatemala doesn’t exactly have much recent experience handling asylum claims.

The deal, if it goes into effect, would be one of Trump’s two most important efforts to undermine the asylum system. The other is the Remain in Mexico program, which is forcing thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are pending in US immigration courts. Combined, the two policies could block the vast majority of asylum seekers who come to the southern border from entering the United States. People who fly or travel by sea to the United States would still be eligible to apply for asylum. (The problem for asylum seekers, particularly those who aren’t wealthy, is that it is often impossible to get a visa to fly to the United States, which is why people turn to smugglers instead.)

McAleenan said that by requiring people to apply for asylum in Guatemala, the agreement would “increase the integrity of the [asylum] process, keep vulnerable families that are really economic migrants out of the hands of smugglers, and allow us to reach those with asylum claims more expeditiously.”

Morales was supposed to come to the White House on July 15 to sign a safe third country agreement, but the trip was canceled at the last minute in response to the Constitutional Court decision. Trump responded to the Guatemalan court decision this week by threatening to impose tariffs on Guatemala and ban Guatemalans from entering the United States. 

Like Trump, Morales is a former television personality who ran for president in 2015 as a political outsider. Since then, Morales has worked aggressively to undermine a renowned UN-backed anti-corruption commission that has targeted members of his family. His administration also has gone out of its way to please Trump, moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem immediately after the United States did. The Trump administration has been largely silent about Morales’ efforts to undermine the rule of law in Guatemala.

[Mother Jones]

White House blasts ‘tyranny of a dysfunctional system’ after judge holds Trump asylum restrictions

The White House blasted a federal court’s ruling blocking its proposed restrictions on asylum-seekers and pledged to “pursue all available options” against the finding.

“The tyranny of a dysfunctional system that permits plaintiffs to forum shop in order to find a single district judge who will purport to dictate immigration policy to the entire Nation – even in the face of a contrary ruling by another Federal court – must come to an end,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar issued the preliminary injunction Wednesday evening following a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The rule, which the departments of Justice and Homeland Security announced earlier in July, would disqualify any asylum-seekers passing through another country on their way to the U.S. from applying for asylum.

Tigar called the regulation “arbitrary and capricious” and said it would leave asylum seekers without “a safe and effective alternative via other countries’ refugee processes.”

His ruling came the same day that U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the District of Columbia denied a motion to temporarily block the rule in a separate legal challenge, which the White House noted in its statement.

[The Hill]

Trump admin dramatically limits asylum claims by Central Americans

The Trump administration on Monday moved to dramatically limit the ability of Central American migrants to claim asylum if they enter the United States by land through Mexico, the latest attempt by the White House to limit immigration and toughen the US asylum process amid overcrowded conditionsat border facilities.The rule from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security would prohibit migrants who have resided or “transited en route” in a third country from seeking asylum in the US, therefore barring migrants traveling through Mexico from being able to claim asylum and as a result, drastically limit who’s eligible for asylum. Over recent months, there’s been a dramatic spike in apprehensions at the US-Mexico border. The majority of migrants are from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They’ve had to travel through Mexico to reach the border and upon arriving in the US, some have turned themselves into the US Border Patrol and claimed asylum.The regulation addresses that group of migrants.

“Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in a statement. It will allow the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to “more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border, leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey.”There are some exceptions: an asylum seeker whose claim was denied after applying for protection in a country, if someone has been trafficked, and if someone transited through a country that did not sign one of the major international treaties on refugees. The rule would take effect immediately but is certain to face legal challenges. Under US law, migrants are allowed to claim asylum once on US soil. There’s a caveat, however, for those who come through safe third countries, meaning countries that the US has entered into an agreement with. The United Nations’ refugee agency defines “safe country,” in part, as “being countries in which refugees can enjoy asylum without any danger.”But Trump’s own statements on Mexico could undercut that definition. In tweets, the President has called Mexico “one of the most dangerous country’s in the world” and claimed that the murder rate in the country has increased.”The Coyotes and Drug Cartels are in total control of the Mexico side of the Southern Border. They have labs nearby where they make drugs to sell into the U.S. Mexico, one of the most dangerous country’s in the world, must eradicate this problem now. Also, stop the MARCH to U.S.” Trump tweeted in April.

[CNN]

Trump accuses media of ‘phony’ reporting on migrant detention centers

President Trump on Sunday accused the media of reporting “phony and exaggerated accounts” of conditions at migrant detention centers along the border in the wake of two bombshell reports from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) watchdog.

“The Fake News Media, in particular the Failing @nytimes, is writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers,” Trump tweeted.

“First of all, people should not be entering our Country illegally, only for us to then have to care for them. We should be allowed to focus on United States Citizens first. Border Patrol, and others in Law Enforcement, have been doing a great job. We said there was a Crisis – the Fake News & the Dems said it was ‘manufactured.'”

“Now all agree we were right, but they always knew that. They are crowded (which we brought up, not them) because the Dems won’t change the Loopholes and Asylum. Big Media Con Job!” he added.

The reports from the DHS Office of Inspector General covered the conditions at facilities near El Paso, Texas, and in the Rio Grande Valley.s

The government watchdog found severe overcrowding, migrants being held too long and dirty conditions at many of the facilities.

A group of lawyers who visited a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, made similar claims about the treatment of migrants.

The Trump administration has denied reports and images of the conditions in detainment facilities.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan earlier Sunday called the allegations of mistreatment, specifically of children, “unsubstantiated.”

Congress last month approved a $4.6 billion emergency border funding bill that was signed into law by Trump and provides migrant agencies with more resources to tackle the problem. However, the bill has been panned by some progressive lawmakers, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who argue it doesn’t do enough to address the systemic issues with the border agency. 

Two Facebook groups linked to current and former Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have been uncovered recently that include derisive images of migrants, vulgar and sexually explicit posts about lawmakers, and racist comments.

CBP condemned the group discovered by ProPublica, calling the posts “completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see – and expect – from our agents day in and day out.”

[The Hill]

Trump Defends Migrant Detention Centers: ‘They’re Really Well Run’

President Donald Trump defended the quality of life at migrant detention centers on Friday when asked about the negative conditions reported from several of them throughout the week.

Speaking with the White House press pool, Trump faced inquiries about how Democratic lawmakersnews reports, and the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s review have painted a horrific picture of the living conditions at detainment centers. Trump said that the centers “are run beautifully.”

“They’re clean, they’re good, they do a great job” Trump said. “They’re crowded because the Democrats will not give us any relief from these loopholes. We have loopholes that are so bad. We have asylum that’s so bad. So these places are — many of them, not all of them – but many of them are incredible. They’re really well run.”

Trump went on to defend Border Patrol on the grounds that they weren’t trained to be caretakers, and he dismissed negative reports about their facilities as he continued to say “they’re doing a phenomenal job.”

“I think they do great with those facilities. You know how it can be taken care of? Number one, tell them not to come,” Trump said. “I think that the Border Patrol has been treated very, very badly by certain members of Congress. For the most part, they’re very respected by Congress, but certain members of Congress say very bad things and lie and exaggerate.”

[Mediaite]

Trump says immigrants ‘unhappy’ with detention centers should stay home

President Donald Trump, facing renewed criticism from Democrats and activists over his handling of a migrant crisis on the U.S.- Mexico border, said in a Twitter post on Wednesday that immigrants unhappy with conditions at detention centers should be told “not to come.” 

Democratic lawmakers and civil rights activists who have visited migrant detention centers along the border in recent days have described nightmarish conditions marked by overcrowding and inadequate access to food, water and other basic needs.

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general on Tuesday published graphic photos of migrant-holding centers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley crammed with twice as many people as they were meant to hold.

“If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!” Trump said on Twitter.

The Republican president has made cracking down on illegal immigration a key part of his first-term agenda after campaigning on the issue ahead of the 2016 election.

“Our Border Patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors or nurses,” Trump wrote earlier on Twitter. “Great job by Border Patrol, above and beyond. Many of these illegals (sic) aliens are living far better now than where they … came from, and in far safer conditions.”

Criticism of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency grew after reports this week that current and former agents had posted offensive anti-immigrant comments and targeted lawmakers on a private Facebook group.

Acting Department of Homeland Security chief Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday ordered an investigation, calling the comments “disturbing.” McAleenan said any employee who had “compromised the public’s trust in our law enforcement mission” would be held accountable.

The Facebook posts, first reported by ProPublica, included jokes about immigrants dying and sexually explicit content about U.S. Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who criticized the detention facilities after a tour this week.

[Reuters]

Trump dismisses furor over conditions for migrants

President Trump on Wednesday came to the defense of border agents and scoffed at Democratic lawmakers’ furor after an internal watchdog report found detained migrants are living in dismal conditions in federal detention facilities.

In a series of tweets, Trump credited Border Patrol with doing a “great job” and going “above and beyond.” He blamed Democrats and existing immigration laws for ongoing issues at the border.

He further claimed that many immigrants detained in the overcrowded facilities are “living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions.”

“No matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked & aghast at how terrible things are. Just Pols,” Trump tweeted. “If they really want to fix them, change the Immigration Laws and Loopholes. So easy to do!”

report released earlier Wednesday from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General described squalid and overcrowded conditions at detention centers, while reporting little progress in recent months by the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, its parent agency.

The report described standing room only cells for migrants, who were not fed hot meals or given showers. The centers also continue to hold children, some of whom are showing up at the border unattended.

Democrats expressed outrage over the treatment of migrants after a group of lawmakers traveled to the border earlier this week to tour one of the holding centers in Clint, Texas.

A ProPublica investigation published Mondayprovoked additional fury when it detailed a Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents that was filled with derogatory posts targeting migrants and Democratic lawmakers.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Wednesday he has ordered an investigation into reports of the vulgar messages.

[The Hill]

Trump accuses Democrats of inaction on border security hours after House passes funding bill

President Donald Trump complained Wednesday that congressional Democrats “won’t do anything at all about border security” hours after the House passed a funding package worth billions of dollars to address the humanitarian crisis at the nation’s southern border.

Trump accused Democrats, as he often does, of supporting “open borders,” and said their immigration policies would lead to “violent crime, drugs, and human trafficking.” His attack on Democrats comes as his administration has faced withering criticism in recent days amid reports of poor treatment for migrants, including minors, at detention facilities along the border.

“Too bad the Dems in Congress won’t do anything at all about Border Security. They want Open Borders, which means crime. But we are getting it done, including building the Wall! More people than ever before are coming because the USA Economy is so good, the best in history,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets early Wednesday.

“Democrats want Open Borders, which equals violent crime, drugs and human trafficking. They also want very high taxes, like 90%. Republicans want what’s good for America – the exact opposite!,” he continued.

The $4.5 billion package for the border, which passed the House almost entirely along party lines, includes strict conditions requiring private detention facilities to meet certain standards of care or risk losing their government contracts. It marks the second time in two days that progressive leaders forced changes to the legislation, despite reluctance to give Trump any funds for his immigration agenda. The House package does not address provisions in asylum law, on which the White House has blamed the influx of migrants.

“Too bad the Dems in Congress won’t do anything at all about Border Security. They want Open Borders, which means crime. But we are getting it done, including building the Wall! More people than ever before are coming because the USA Economy is so good, the best in history,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets early Wednesday.

“Democrats want Open Borders, which equals violent crime, drugs and human trafficking. They also want very high taxes, like 90%. Republicans want what’s good for America – the exact opposite!,” he continued.

The $4.5 billion package for the border, which passed the House almost entirely along party lines, includes strict conditions requiring private detention facilities to meet certain standards of care or risk losing their government contracts. It marks the second time in two days that progressive leaders forced changes to the legislation, despite reluctance to give Trump any funds for his immigration agenda. The House package does not address provisions in asylum law, on which the White House has blamed the influx of migrants.

Trump has demanded sweeping changes to asylum law, in exchange for permanently calling off mass deportation raids. The administration’s plans to begin deporting thousands of undocumented immigrants was delayed for two weeks on Saturday — the latest threat by Trump to take tough action.

The Trump administration has also requested an emergency stay from a federal court that would allow the Defense Department to start building a border wall in Arizona and New Mexico with $1 billion in funding.

In the hours leading up to passage of the bill, Pelosi argued that Democrats needed to stand behind their plan to combat the humanitarian crisis, rather than bicker over Trump and his immigration policies.

Both parties have decried recent reports of the horrific conditions at the border, where multiple migrant children have died and others have been held in unsanitary conditions, often without access to basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap.

[Politico]

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