Our national immigration policies serve to outline the standards agencies must follow when interacting with those wishing to enter the United States. However, important legal questions arise when those wishing to enter are young children or teenagers. The current administration has made it clear they expect a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to immigrants crossing the border. Though, fully prosecuting every person crossing has had some unfortunate consequences. The family separation crisis earlier this year demonstrated a need for more thoughtful immigration policy around the growing numbers of children and unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S.
The number of immigrant children and family units coming across the border has been steadily rising. Between January and July of this year, the number of family members apprehended at the border was nearly double the number apprehended in the same time-frame the year before. Many of these immigrants come from the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). These countries have been struck by wide-spread poverty and violence, and immigrants from these nations may seek asylum within the U.S.
Since the late 90’s, the foundation of most immigration policy relating to children has been one court case, Flores v. Reno. The 1997 Flores Agreement outlined how the government must treat, care for, and eventually place minors in their custody. The terms of the agreement require that the federal government provide basic standards of physical care, as well as release minors without “unnecessary delay” to parents or sponsors. If children cannot be released, they must be placed in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate. These provisions and subsequent litigation within the courts set an appropriate standard of care for children in government custody.
The current administration’s push towards harsher immigration reform puts policies like the Flores Agreement in danger. The government has clashed with state courts often over immigration law, and now the administration seeks to circumvent the courts entirely. In early September of this year several federal agencies published a proposed rule change which outlined intentions to replace the old Flores Agreement with similar “parallel” rule-making. With this move the government now has discretion to pick and choose which requirements from the agreement will still be applicable.
The most substantive change is to the licensing requirements for facilities which house immigrant families with children. The proposed changes mean that facilities will no longer need to be state-licensed. Instead the government will establish its own licensing methods. Having the government license its own facilities has raised concerns given the track record of facilities used to house immigrant families. There are only three detention centers which service the growing need of families and children fleeing their homes for asylum in the U.S.
The growing numbers of immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. coupled with increasingly strict policy from the government combine to place vulnerable families in a legal limbo. They are caught between violence in their home country and a tangle of rules and regulations at the border. Many families struggle just to find a life for themselves. This is a great opportunity to exercise the voice of democracy and contact your local government officials to make your opinions on immigration heard. Additionally, now that elections are over newly elected officials will need to hear their constituents’ concerns about immigration more than ever.
If you, or anyone you know, have questions about eligibility for immigration to the U.S., please contact a knowledgeable and experienced immigration lawyer.
Sources and further reading:
Zero Tolerance Policy
Family Separation and Zero Tolerance
Flores v Reno and Associated Agreement
Immigration and the Courts
The New Proposed Changes to Care of Minors
Detention Facility Conditions
Family Immigration Numbers