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Trump Administration Moves To Permit Indefinite Detention Of Migrant Children


Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan announced changes just this morning to how long government can detain migrant children. Here he is.


KEVIN MCALEENAN: The Trump administration has established a new rule to respond to the realities of current immigration flows, a rule based on the principle that families should remain together during immigration proceedings.

KING: All right, Ted Hesson is with me in the studio. He's an immigration reporter at Politico. Ted, thanks for coming in.

TED HESSON: Thank you for having me.

KING: OK so what was the rule, and what is the change?

HESSON: So this involves a settlement agreement that actually outlines the standards for children who are detained in federal immigration custody. And it dates all the way back to a court fight in the 1980s that let - then led to a 1997 settlement that essentially said that children need to be held in a least confined setting and released as expeditiously as possible. One of the things the Trump administration has said is that those rules basically constrain their ability to enforce immigration laws and to remove people from the country quickly.

KING: Because they have to let the kids go at a certain point - right? - after a certain number of days. And so I guess would this change allow the administration to hold migrant children - to detain them indefinitely?

HESSON: So under a judge's order related to this settlement agreement, the current limit for holding children with their parents is 20 days. And what this regulation seeks to do is essentially lift that, and it doesn't have a new upper limit. It's essentially indefinite. The administration would say there are opportunities to be paroled out of detention, that you could post a bond and leave detention, or essentially, you could also be removed from the country. So they're saying that it's not indefinite. But there is no official upper limit that's set in this regulation.

KING: And what would this mean for the parents of these kids?

HESSON: I mean, it means that they could potentially be detained together. Now, what Acting Secretary McAleenan said today was that not every family that's encountered will be detained under this measure. But I think we can expect that if it goes into effect - and it hasn't gone into effect yet - that the administration would ramp up their family detention and seek more money to have more family beds.

KING: Let's talk about money. I mean, I guess we've heard immigration authorities say again and again that they're strapped. Does the government have resources to hold children for longer than 20 days?

HESSON: Right now ICE has - Immigration and Customs Enforcement has about 3,300 family beds, and even those are not all available. I mean, many of them are filled, and some of them are restricted for various reasons. The Trump administration has sought more funding from Congress for beds, but they haven't got it so far. And it's something that you can imagine that, if this regulation is put into effect, that they're going to come back and they're going to ask Congress for more money to hold parents and children together.

KING: OK. So what happens now? When is this rule supposed to go into effect?

HESSON: So technically, it has a 60-day effective date, and that would start on Friday. But the reality of how it will work is because there's ongoing litigation around this question of whether you can detain children with their parents. The Trump administration will actually have to file a motion with a federal judge in Los Angeles, who will then have to approve the termination of the current settlement agreement that outlines detention conditions and then allow them to put this into effect. So, you know, we're looking at at least one court battle over this, and there could be separate legal challenges in the meantime.

KING: Ted Hesson is an immigration reporter at Politico. Ted, thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it.

HESSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.