In 1997, a federal court decided in Flores v. Reno that the government cannot detain an immigrant child beyond a reasonable amount of time, defined in 2014 as 20 days. The Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy clashed headlong into Flores with disastrous results. After intense public pressure, the Trump administration agreed to abide by the 20 day limit on detention for children and families, but continued to seek ways to overturn Flores and allow families to be detained beyond the 20 day limit.
Now, the Trump administration has proposed to end the limits on immigrant children detention by terminating the Flores Agreement. Under the new rule, the government seeks to detain migrant families together indefinitely while their immigration case is pending.
Not only is the unlimited detention of thousands of migrant families morally unjustifiable, it is also economically wasteful - “tent cities” cost upwards of $800 per person per night. The reason behind detention is to ensure asylum seekers show up for their court appointments, but alternative methods are also successful in ensuring that outcome. The Family Case Management Program launched in 2016 monitored asylum seekers while allowing them to stay together and out of detention. Immigration advocates praised the program for its 99% compliance rate, cost efficiency, and the additional medical and legal support provided to migrants. The Trump administration ended the program in 2017 to prioritize detention.
Our government has options in how it treats migrants and asylum seekers in our country even as we defend our borders. We must choose the most humane approach available, which is not indefinite detention.