By Josh Leach on August 22, 2019
The Trump administration is slated to publish a regulation this week slashing key human rights protections for migrant children. Like the draft version posted last September, this final rule will reportedly eliminate a mandatory 20-day cap on the length of time children can be locked up in detention. It will also roll back state licensing requirements for federal family detention facilities and other crucial safeguards. Contrary to the administration’s claims, these changes would effectively gut the 1997 Flores agreement—a binding court settlement that governs the federal treatment of migrant children. In doing so, the rule exposes countless young people to the threat of indefinite detention in prison-like facilities.
This rule is the most recent among the administration’s many efforts to penalize asylum-seekers, simply for exercising their right to petition for refuge in the United States. It comes as conditions deteriorate further in several Central American countries, forcing thousands of people to flee in the hope of finding safety elsewhere. Once again, the administration’s response to this crisis of forced displacement is to use all means at its disposal to make conditions intolerable for asylum-seekers in the United States, compelling them to abandon hope. The fact that the administration’s latest regulation takes aim at children, in particular, underlines the inherent brutality of this approach.
UUSC has striven for years to uphold the protections of the Flores agreement that are jeopardized under this rule. In 2015, we celebrated when federal courts overruled the Obama administration’s contention that Flores does not apply to migrant children in custody with their parents. Judge Dolly Gee’s important decision that year established a 20-day limit on the length of time a mother and child can be held behind bars. UUSC research at the time confirmed the need for such a limit, and reiterated what has long been the consensus view among human rights experts: prolonged detention of children and families is inherently traumatizing and cruel. It is therefore indefensible under any conditions, let alone those lacking basic safeguards for child welfare.
Since then, UUSC and our supporters around the country have repeatedly taken action to uphold children’s right to be free of prison-like confinement. When the draft version of the Trump administration’s Flores rule was proposed last fall, our members were among the more than 100,000 people around the country who submitted comments. Together, we helped ensure the community’s opposition to this proposed rollback of children’s rights was inscribed in the public record.
Despite its best efforts, the administration cannot simply rewrite the law. The Flores settlement is legally binding, and any proposed changes to its implementation will have to be approved by the courts that oversee the agreement. According to media reports, legal challenges are expected to follow swiftly once the rule is published.
There is a further and even more important barrier to the administration’s new effort to punish migrants, however: the resilience and bravery of people seeking refuge. Though the administration’s policies are designed to extinguish hope, the human will to survive, flourish, and protect one’s family is a mighty force. UUSC chooses to ally ourselves with this force of life and hope as we work to undo regulations that penalize and harm our communities.
Photo Credit: iStock – tcareob72
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!