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Trump Administration Proposes To Allow For Longer Detention Of Migrant Children


President Trump's administration wants to detain migrant children for longer than is currently allowed. The administration proposed new rules today. These rules would lift long-standing limits on how many days the government can hold children in immigration detention. This could be awkward because a judge imposed those limits years ago. And it's all connected to the administration's separation of families at the border. Now that the administration has agreed to ease off on that policy, officials want to hold kids in detention with their parents for as long as necessary. NPR's Joel Rose is covering this story. He's on the line. Good morning, Joel.


INSKEEP: Let's just remember, how long right now can the administration legally hold children in custody?

ROSE: Well, under the terms of this Flores settlement agreement, which the - you know, was made between plaintiffs and the government itself, so the government agreed to this, remember - the administration can only hold children in jail-like settings for 20 days. That's how...

INSKEEP: Twenty days.

ROSE: That's how the agreement's been interpreted.

INSKEEP: And now they proposed this rule to do something else, which is what?

ROSE: To hold children and parents together, basically, for as long as it takes for their immigration cases to play out. And often, that, you know, is months or years.

INSKEEP: OK. Let me just figure this out because you said that they agreed to it before a judge, which means it has the force of law. If the speed limit is 20 miles an hour, I cannot suddenly propose a new speed limit and start driving it. Can the administration just change the rule by proposing a new rule?

ROSE: It's a bold move. The administration argues that these proposed changes could still satisfy the basic requirements of Flores. They say that holding these families together, they can still ensure that children are treated with, quote, "dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors." But immigrant rights activists have been anticipating this move from the administration say that is absurd. They say that any kind of detention for children is harmful to their health and their development. And they are certainly expected to push back and challenge these rules in court.

INSKEEP: Didn't the Obama administration ask this judge to give more time to detain migrants with their families, and the Obama administration was turned down?

ROSE: That's correct, so has the Trump administration. I mean, a few weeks ago, the Department of Justice was, you know, in Judge Gee's court arguing that they needed permission to hold children in detention for longer than 20 days, and Gee had none of it. I mean, she called that a, quote, "cynical attempt," unquote, to shift responsibility to the courts for 20 years of congressional inaction. You know, those are not the words of a judge who's eager to lift this limit, I don't think. So...

INSKEEP: So I just want understand what the next step is for the government. Will they seek permission from the judge to approve this rule they have proposed or will they just start doing things in a different way and say, sue me?

ROSE: Well, first there's this comment period. There's, like, a 60-day comment period on the regulations that they've proposed. And then, you know, after that, there'll be 45 days for people who want to challenge them in court to do so. So, you know, I think we're going to see all this play out in the courts, as we've seen a lot of. The Trump administration's policy...

INSKEEP: Meaning they're not going to start holding people indefinitely immediately, there's at least a comment period ahead and maybe a court proceeding.

ROSE: I mean, so far that is my understanding. But I - you know, I wouldn't rule anything out.

INSKEEP: OK. Joel, thanks very much, appreciate the update.

ROSE: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Joel Rose on this morning when we've learned that the Trump administration has proposed a new rule to indefinitely, or as long as necessary, hold migrant children with their families in detention. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.