As Deadline for Family Unification Nears, Congress Tries to Weaken Protections for Immigrant Children

by Scott Bixby   on July 26, 2018   publication:

With only hours remaining before a court-mandated deadline requires the federal government to reunite thousands of children separated from their immigrant families, the Trump administration has assured Americans that it has all intentions of meeting that deadline.

“We’re on track” to complete more than 1,500 reunifications for all ‘suitable’ families within the next two days, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Fox News on Tuesday. “We’re working hand and glove with [the Department of Health and Human Services], and it’s certainly our intention.”

But for the hundreds of children on track to be reunited with their families on American soil—out of an estimated 2,551 minors between the ages of five and 17 who the government believes may be covered by the court order—the condition of the detention centers where they could be held with their families upon reunification is the newest uncertainty of their incarceration. For starters, the facilities may not even be required to be licensed.

Congressional Republicans have quietly introduced a provision into H.R. 6470—an appropriations bill introduced on Tuesday for the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor—that would eliminate such requirements for immigration detention facilities used to detain children and families. The resolution could remove vital safeguards protecting standards of care for migrant children currently held in state- and county-operated detention facilities, including in three ICE-contracted family detention centers currently running without a state license.

The result could create “an illegal black hole” where abuse and poor conditions inside detention centers would flourish, attorney David Bennion, executive director of the Free Migration Project, told The Daily Beast. “You’ll be taking away the only regulatory agency that is putatively engaged on the issue.

“The government has never gone and gotten those facilities licensed,” said Jennifer Podkul, an international human rights lawyer and director of policy at Kids in Need of Defense, an organization that works on behalf of children who enter the immigration system alone. “It speaks to the difficulty of appropriate family detention. Facilities that are intended to hold both adults and children are very logistically complex.”

“That’s why it’s so problematic,” Podkul continued, “which is why the government shouldn’t be in the business of family detention in the first place.”

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