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Migrant children will suffer most under new US detention rule

WASHINGTON (CNS): Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, the United States of America (US), chairperson of the US bishops’ Committee on Migration, said on August 23 that he sees “heartbreaking consequences for immigrant children” in a final rule issued by the Trump administration that allows the federal government to hold immigrant children in family detention indefinitely.
 
The new rule was jointly issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)and the Department Health and Human Services (HHS) and will end a long-standing legal agreement put in place in 1997, known as the Flores Settlement Agreement, to ensure the safety and care of children in immigration detention settings.
 
Pope Francis has deemed immigrant children “the most vulnerable group’ among migrants,” and they will be most affected by this new rule, Bishop Vasquez said.
 
In a statement, the bishop said the new rule “is an attempt by the administration to circumvent existing obligations and undermine critical protections for these children.” 
 
He said, “This rule will jeopardise the well-being and humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody and will result in children suffering long-lasting consequences of being held for prolonged periods in family detention. We oppose this rule that we believe is unlawful and inhumane. Countless children will be harmed by this new rule and this is simply not acceptable.” 
 
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also opposed this rule when it was initially proposed by DHS and HHS and submitted comments on 23 October 2018, detailing concerns urging it be rescinded. The government received more than 98,000 comments in response to the proposed rule.
 
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC) said it likewise submitted comments, calling the proposed rule “unlawful and immoral” as it negates “the child-friendly provisions in the Flores agreement.”
 
Anna Gallagher, CLINIC’s executive director, said, “This rule would destroy long-term child protection standards created by our government and the courts. There is no justification to keep families and children in immigration jails longer. Separation of children from their parents is inherently wrong. The same is true for keeping children in detention.”
 
Lawrence Couch, director of the National Advocacy Centre of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, said, “Once again, the Trump administration is using children as pawns in its attack on immigrants.” 
 
Acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, claimed the new guidelines would help the government maintain the “integrity of the immigration system.”
McAleenan said in announcing the rule, “The facilities that we will be using to temporarily house families under this rule are appropriately, fundamentally different than the facilities where migrants are processed following apprehension or encounter at the border.”
 
Currently, there are only three family immigration detention facilities in the US: one in Karnes City, Texas; one in Dilley, Texas; and another in Leesport, Pennsylvania; which together have 3,335 beds, according to the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services.
 
The Flores Settlement Agreement has protected children in immigration custody by guaranteeing them the least restrictive setting. Courts have interpreted this rule to limit family detention to a maximum of 20 days in facilities that are not state licensed to provide childcare. Opponents of the Trump administration’s rule say it will allow the government to keep families in detention indefinitely.
 
Among others who condemned the administration’s new rule were the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Franciscan Action Network, whose executive director, Patrick Carolan, said, “The Trump administration continues its war against migrant children and families… This latest attack is cruel, inhumane and un-American.”

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