DHS Announces New Rule to End Catch-and-Release for Asylum Seekers

By Susan Jones | August 21, 2019 | 11:28am EDT
Migrants hold hands as they cross the border between the U.S. and Mexico at the Rio Grande river, on their way to enter El Paso, Texas, on May 20, 2019. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - To address the unprecedented flow of families across the Southwest border, the Trump administration on Wednesday announced regulations that will allow families to be detained together, pending disposition of their immigration hearings.

The goal is to end "catch and release." Asylum-seeking families will no longer be released into the United States with a promise to appear in immigration court -- promises that are mostly not kept, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan noted.

McAleenan told a news conference that in the first ten months of the current fiscal year, almost 475,000 families came to this country, most of them crossing illegally between ports of entry in quest of asylum.

Under the current interpretation of the Flores settlement, families with minor children must be released within 20 days, on a promise to appear for their hearings, which may take years to happen.

"The Flores settlement is operationally outdated and does not respond to the current immigration crisis," McAleenan told the news conference.

He highlighted key elements of the new rule, including the new standards of care in custody for children and families. In fact, McAleenan spent a fair amount of time describing where illegal immigrants seeking asylum will be housed:

The facilities that we will be using to temporarily house families under this rule are appropriately fundamentally different than the facilities where migrants are processed following apprehension or encounter at the border. They are campus like settings with appropriate medical, education, recreational, dining and private housing facilities.

He gave an example of the first such "Family Residential Center" in Berks County, Pa. where each family is housed separately in suites.

Furniture, bedding, towels, clothing and toiletries are provided. There's a large community living room that has a big-screen television, cushioned couches and lounge chairs, gaming area, and separate library that contains books, other televisions sets, video games and board games.

The facility also has an entire wing dedicated to classroom learning, where minors at the facility go to school five days a week.

Another wing is a medical facility where minors and their parents receive necessary medical care, including all immunizations required for later admission to U.S. public schools. There are also phone banks to call relatives and consulates, attorneys or other representatives.

Three hot meal a day are provided and snacks are available throughout the day.

McAleenan also described the recreational activities available to foreigners -- sports, exercise classes, arts and crafts classes, movie nights anad even seasonal holiday-themed activities. Outdoor recreation includes soccer fields, volleyball courts and playgrounds.

The residences have video conferencing set up for court hearings, and child care is provided, as are interpreting services.

McAleenan said the new rule aims for an "expeditious immigration result while holding families together," which used to happen in 2104 and 2015.

Instead of letting people melt into the U.S. population, they will be detained until their claims are adjudicated. McAleenan said this should discourage migrants who are coming here with no intention of showing up for their immigration hearings.

He also said the new rule will discourage the exploitation of minors who are used to form fraudulent family units.

McAleenan said in 2014/2015, when family residential centers were established by the Obama administration, it took under 50 days to resolve cases.

The U.S. currently has three family residential centers with approximately 3,000 beds, which -- along with other measures -- will "substantially increase our ability to end the catch-and-release challenges that have fueled this crisis," McAleenan said.

The new rule will take effect 60 days from this coming Friday, and it will be challenged in court by immigration advocates that fight any detention of asylum seekers or others wishing to come to this country without authorization.

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