The Trump administration asked Congress to amend a ruling that forces family separations by limiting how long children accompanying illegal immigrants can be detained.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday that the 1997 Flores Agreement must be amended. The Flores Agreement stipulates that the government cannot detain children accompanying migrants for more than 20 days, forcing the government to either separate families by detaining adults for prosecution or release families with a pending court date. (RELATED: ICE Won’t Arrest Illegal Immigrant Evacuees In The Carolinas Escaping From Hurricane)
The latter “catch and release” method, known as alternatives to detention, in which families may avoid detention and remain under electronic forms of monitoring, has often resulted in released families skipping their court dates and failing to respond to removal orders.
Robert E. Perez, the acting deputy commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said that as a result, the Flores Agreement not only hampers law enforcement’s ability to stem the tide of illegal immigration, but also creates an obvious loophole for smugglers to exploit.
“It creates a business model for smugglers,” Perez told the committee, according to The New York Times.
Amending the Flores Agreement to allow for the detention of migrant children with their families could take away one of the incentives for illegal immigration, acting deputy assistant attorney general Joseph Edlow said.
Modification to the agreement could also help relieve the immense backlog of over 700,000 migrant cases in immigration courts’ “non-detained” bracket, as proceedings for cases in that bracket typically last for years while cases for detained migrants are usually adjudicated after an average stay of 40 days.
Democrats, however, decried the proposal to amend the agreement, saying that detaining children is unacceptable.
“Why are you here recommending a set of changes that would allow the detention of children?” said Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable to detain children. This is not who we are,” she added.
Republicans like Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines and several others agreed that the agreement needed to be amended, as its current form prevents U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from effectively performing their duties.
“The Flores settlement represents a significant hurdle to the enforcement of immigration law,” Daines said.
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