[Pnews] 500,000 Kids, 30 Million Hours: Trump’s Vast Expansion of Child Detention

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 30 10:34:40 EDT 2020

Kids, 30 Million Hours: Trump’s Vast Expansion of Child Detention
By Anna Flagg and Andrew R. Calderón - October 30, 2020

When U.S. Customs and Border Protection holds migrant children in custody,
the child’s detention is supposed to be safe and short. That’s true whether
the child is with a parent or without one.

But new data
shows that over the last four years, detention times lengthened as the
number of children held at the border soared to almost half a million. The
detentions, which include both unaccompanied children and children with
their families, peaked last year at over 300,000, with 40 percent held
longer than the 72-hour limit set by a patchwork of legislation and a court

“The government regularly violated the 72-hour rule,” said Dr. Bill O.
Hing, a University of San Francisco law professor and immigration lawyer
who was part of an inspection group touring border stations in the summer
of 2019 at the height of the crisis. Hing said he witnessed minors being
held for increasingly long times in unsafe facilities designed to hold
adults, not children and babies.

The rising numbers of children detained at the border with one or more
family members have received relatively little attention. Yet at the same
time that detentions of unaccompanied minors were skyrocketing, so were
detentions of children who arrived with families, government data shows.
The federal government carried out almost 40,000 detentions of children
with families in 2014; last year, that shot up to almost 250,000.

More children, detained longer

U.S. Customs and Border Protection carried out thousands of child detentions
a day, a total of almost half a million in the last four years, with a
growing number held 72 hours or more. Detentions have since fallen to
nearly none, as the administration expels migrants citing public health

Peak on May 4

Of the 2,500 kids booked on this day, half spent 72 hours or more in custody
MaySepJan2018MaySepJan2019MaySepJan20202,000 kids booked into CBP custodywith
or without a parent1,000

“72 hours in a cage with concrete floors and freezing temperatures and
terrible conditions is 72 hours too many for—honestly in my view, for
anyone,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington and vice-chair of the
House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. “But
particularly for children, regardless of if they're with their families or

An undocumented migrant child’s path into the U.S. often begins with
getting booked into a Border Patrol station somewhere along the border.
Customs and Border Protection then transfers children traveling without a
parent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement—which reports to a different
agency, the Department of Health and Human Services. The staff there works
to place them with appropriate family members or other sponsors. Many
children traveling with family get transferred to ICE family detention
facilities, where they are either released pending hearings or wait to be

For unaccompanied children, a legal 72-hour limit is set on their initial
custody in Customs and Border Protection by the 2008 Trafficking Victims
Protection Reauthorization Act. For children who arrive with family
members, the same limit is technically required by a 1997 settlement
agreement <https://www.aila.org/File/Related/14111359b.pdf> known as
Flores—unless there is an influx of minors, defined at the time as 130
children at the border. With the U.S. today routinely detaining thousands
of children on a given day, the 72-hour Flores protection for children
arriving with parents has not applied for years.

Regardless, together these documents require the federal government to
provide basic standards of care for all children—like hot meals, fresh
water, clean clothes and a quick exit from holding facilities into the care
of qualified sponsors.

A series of policy shifts by the Trump administration have made these
obligations harder to meet. In early 2018, the federal government
increased vetting
requirements for potential sponsors
<https://apnews.com/article/81787a5897704a0cae82a9ceb0eea271>, and required
more information sharing about sponsors with ICE. As a result, it took
longer and longer to place unaccompanied children with appropriate
sponsors, and to find sponsors—some of whom might be undocumented
themselves—willing to risk coming forward to claim them. For children who
arrived with a parent, a crackdown on who qualifies for asylum on the basis
of credible fear
of domestic violence, gangs and other threats led to high rates of denial,
leaving these children stuck in ICE family detention centers with their

Along with a host of other immigration policies—including child separation
and restrictions on immigration judges’ authority to handle caseloads
steps have had a cascading effect, clogging up nearly every part of the
immigration system.

With a growing number of children seeking refuge in the U.S., the policies
led to a pile-up of children in border detention centers that were never
designed to care for them.

Children held and time in custody grew over the past four years

Over the course of the administration larger and larger numbers of children
were being held in custody at the border, and they spent longer times
there. At its peak in 2019, 40 percent of child detentions were 72 hours or

72 hours

custody limit on children
72 hrs144+Jan-June 201720,000 kids10,000 72 hrs144+July–Dec 201720,000 kids 72
hrs144+Jan–June 201820,000 kids 72 hrs144+July–Dec 201820,000 kids 72 hrs
144+Jan–June 201920,000 72 hrs144+July–Dec 201920,000 kids

“The back-ups at CBP (Customs and Border Protection) in 2019 should have
been preventable,” said Mark Greenberg, a former Acting Assistant Secretary
of Health and Human Services, where he oversaw the office that provides
care for unaccompanied minors at the border. “The surge didn’t happen
overnight, and there were clear warning signs about the need to take action
earlier to prevent it.”

At the height of the crisis in 2019, Congress passed a bill releasing $4.6
billion in emergency funds to federal agencies handling migrants. The
measure passed over the objections
of some lawmakers who saw it as further support for the harsh immigration
policies that had contributed to the crisis in the first place.

“[The administration] was glad there was a surge,” said Peter Schey, an
immigration lawyer who leads litigation efforts for the Flores agreement.
“[They were] happy to pick up another billion dollars in federal taxpayers’
money to engage in enforcement, most of it targeted against children.”

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration
Studies, a think tank that promotes greater restrictions on immigration,
disagrees that the policies were designed to make the process difficult for
children. She believes the vetting policies were created to protect migrant
children from falling into the hands of unqualified sponsors.

“Your perspective on this issue depends on whether your priority is to get
these kids out of custody and into the hands of sponsors as quickly as
possible,” she said, “or if the welfare of the child is the priority, even
if it means keeping them in CBP custody for longer.”

Vaughan said the policies were a response to claims that the Department of
Health and Human Services was not properly vetting potential sponsors
endangering children by putting them in the hands of labor traffickers.
“The additional screening was adopted out of concern for these kids,” she

The welfare of children in Border Patrol custody has been the subject of
intense scrutiny. In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security’s own
internal watchdog issued a report
citing lengthy stays and overcrowding. The report described “limited
access” to a change of clothes and hot meals, and children kept in “cells”
for impermissible lengths of time.

These problems stretch back years. Under the Obama administration, reports
of unsafe and unsanitary conditions began circulating as the immigration
system struggled to accommodate rapidly growing numbers of migrants at the
border. In 2014, almost 108,000 children arrived, more than double the
previous year. There wasn’t enough space to house them all, so the
Department of Homeland Security set up a makeshift holding facility using
chain-link fencing inside an industrial warehouse. Since then, critics have
decried the conditions as inhumane and called for improvements.

“The Trump administration knew they were adopting a growing system,” said
Jennifer Podkul, vice president of policy at Kids in Need of Defense, a
legal advocacy group. “But instead of developing proper standards of care,
they kept kids detained for longer periods of time and separated them from
their families.”

A Department of Homeland Security inspection report shows overcrowding of
families on June 11, 2019, at the Weslaco, Texas, Border Patrol station.
Office of Inspector General/Department of Homeland Security via Getty Images

In 2018, President Trump promised to “terminate
the Flores agreement, calling it a “selling point” for smugglers who
exploit children for profit. In a letter to Congress
the following year, he listed “terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement”
as the one of the most “pressing legal changes” to secure U.S. borders. But
Flores can’t be terminated with a stroke of the president’s pen.

Under the terms of the agreement, the federal government must propose
policies that substantially mirror the protections in the settlement and
must then be approved by the court. The government was supposed to replace
the settlement with regulations within a few years. Twenty-four years and
four presidents later, no such policies have been enacted.

The administration attempted to eliminate the agreement’s requirements by
drafting new regulations
in 2019. Judge Dolly Gee, the federal district judge overseeing Flores,
the proposal, stating in its decision that the policies “do not implement
the Flores Agreement, they intentionally subvert it.
The Trump administration is appealing the rejection to the Supreme Court.
Its newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, whose record on immigration is
will help decide whether the court hears the case next year.

In recent months, holding facilities have become less cramped and the stays
shorter. That is largely because in March 2020, President Trump drastically
restricted land border crossings by invoking the 1944 Public Health Service
authorizing the U.S. government to turn away people and goods at the border
on public health grounds. Since then, authorities have expelled thousands
of children and families

If and when the borders fully reopen, the questions of appropriate and
enforceable standards will remain. Some experts and lawmakers see the need
for a complete overhaul of the immigration system to avoid repeating the
problems of the last two years.

“There are many things we can do,” said Jayapal, who is calling for a large
scale reform package that would bolster family case management and
supportive services, broaden protections for migrant children and
strengthen accountability measures for agencies responsible for their care
and custody. She advocates ending detention altogether for families,
children and the vast majority of other migrants who pose little safety
risk to the community.

“We need to rethink our border policies completely,” she said. “We should
not be detaining kids.”

*Tanvi Misra contributed reporting.*

*Download the data
used for this story.*
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