Attack on Flores Settlement Cruel, Inhumane and Unacceptable
The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards have responded to the Trump administration’s latest attacks on immigrant kids. Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Department of Homeland Security (DHS), proposes to eviscerate protections for children enshrined in the Flores Settlement Agreement so the administration can detain kids and their parents in military camps indefinitely.
Just as trust and stability can enhance that growth, fear and trauma can impede it. Institutionalization, in particular, can have profound and deleterious effects, triggering a range of developmental delays and psychiatric disorders from which recovery can be difficult, if not impossible.
In light of that knowledge, the Trump administration’s latest move against immigrant children is especially troubling. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security proposed new regulations that would allow the government to detain migrant children indefinitely. Officials are now prohibited from detaining such minors for more than 20 days by an agreement known as the Flores settlement, which has been in place since 1997. The new rules would end that settlement and would likely open the door to an expansion of detention centers across the country.
… Even with Flores in place, those protections have proved thin. Youth migrant shelters — there are roughly 100 such facilities housing more than 10,000 minors across the country — have been cited for a long list of abuses, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, blatant medical neglect, the forcible injection of antipsychotic medications, the unlawful restraint of children in distress and harsh rules that prohibit even siblings from hugging one another. The shelters in question, several of which are facing lawsuits, are part of a network that has received billions of federal dollars in the past four years alone. That money has continued to pour in even as abuse allegations have multiplied.
… The administration surely knows what a long shot this proposal is, but it will undoubtedly excite President Trump’s political base as the midterm elections approach. So while the administration plays politics, the well-being of thousands of children who came to America seeking protection and safety will be put at risk — today and, developmentally, for the rest of their lives.
The Trump administration ripped more than 2,600 migrant children from their parents’ arms with no plan or procedures for reuniting them, resulting in some 500 children remaining effectively orphaned even today, five months after the fact. Now it proposes a new policy for jailing migrant children indefinitely, one that ensures they “are treated with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.”
That assurance, along with its rich irony, is offered by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who has proposed the policy in a brazen attempt to escape the strictures of a two-decade-old court settlement forbidding the long-term incarceration of minors who cross the border seeking asylum in the United States.
Ms. Nielsen, who was instrumental in executing the zero-compassion policy that traumatized so many toddlers, grade-schoolers, tweens and teens this spring and summer, now would have Americans believe her department recognizes children as particularly vulnerable human beings, deserving of dignity and respect. How will that dignity and respect be meted out when those children are confined, along with their parents, in long-term detention facilities that the administration now proposes to build?
… It is legitimate to take concrete steps to ensure that migrant families appear in immigration court when ordered to do so. Ankle bracelet monitors, bail and other means of achieving that have been effective, and their use can be expanded. What’s less effective, and at odds with American values, is the administration’s abiding faith in punitive measures where children are concerned. There’s no evidence that they work to cut illegal border-crossing; there’s plenty of evidence of their cruelty.