DHS proposal would change rules for minors in immigration detention

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is attempting to rewrite the rules for detaining immigrant children apprehended at the border, seeking greater flexibility on everything from their snack times to their asylum applications in the United States, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by The Washington Post.

The draft regulations signal that the Trump administration is considering detaining families for longer periods and subjecting unaccompanied minors to increased scrutiny that could make it easier to deport them. They would allow officials to separate parents and children if holding them together would place an ‘‘undue burden’’ on government operations.

The 96-page working draft is dated April 20, and comes as President Trump and his top immigration officials are instituting policies that could dramatically increase the separation of parents and children taken into custody at the border.


On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department will pursue criminal charges against all foreign nationals caught crossing the border illegally — an effort to clamp down on illegal immigration that would send parents into criminal custody and children to federally funded shelters overseen by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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The regulations being drafted by the Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with the Justice Department, would provide a clear set of rules for how detained children should be treated, effectively replacing a 1997 consent decree that — along with two more recent federal laws — currently guide those decisions.

But advocates say the regulations include changes that could erode several important child-welfare protections.

‘‘They want more power to punish children and their families for seeking safety in the US,’’ said Diane Eikenberry, associate director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which advocates for immigrants.

Her organization and others say federal officials should not detain families that are seeking safe refuge, noting that many who cross the border are Central Americans escaping countries ravaged by gangs and some of the world’s highest homicide rates.


Homeland Security officials declined to comment on the draft regulations, which are in the preliminary stages and must undergo several steps before they could take effect, including publication in the Federal Register and a period for public comment.

Under the federal consent decree, known as the Flores Settlement Agreement, the government has up to five days to transfer children detained in a Homeland Security facility to a family residential facility, where they would stay with their parents.

The Trump administration would replace the five-day transfer deadline with the more ambiguous standard of ‘‘as expeditiously as possible.’’