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Same Kids, Different Families: Trump Admin Sets New Rules on Migrant Family Detention

These migrants were released by US immigration authorities in early 2019. Here they wait to check in at the Catholic Charities shelter in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo)

Matt Soerens of the Christian humanitarian organization World Relief appeared on Wednesday's edition of CBN's Newswatch to discuss the new immigration rule. 

The Trump administration is moving to limit the number of families entering the US illegally by ending a policy requiring the release of families detained at the border after 20 days.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the proposed new rules Wednesday to prevent migrants from fraudulently using children to enter the US.

"The driving factor for this crisis is weakness in our legal framework for immigration," said Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.

DHS wants to end the so-called "Flores agreement" – a federal court agreement that limits how long immigrant children can be detained. The agreement requires that the government generally release children after 20 days.

Migrants with children entering the US usually get released while their asylum claims make their way through the courts.

"No child should be a pawn in a scheme to manipulate our immigration system which is why the new rule eliminates the incentive to exploit children as a free ticket or as one gentleman in Guatemala told me, 'a passport for migration to the United States,'" McAleenan noted.

The acting secretary announced the proposed rules would take the place of the Flores agreement. They include facilities which will better care for families, providing medical treatment, outdoor areas like soccer fields, and access to video conferencing for court proceedings.

Under the new policy, families will be held together while a judge considers their case. McAleenan said there was "no intent to hold families for a long period of time. The intent is for a fair and expeditious proceeding."

DHS did not say how long it expects families to be kept, but McAleenan said under the previous administration it was about 50 days.

New detention standards for housing families are also part of the plan. 

The administration says traffickers are using children to exploit the "catch and release" program and some kids have shown up multiple times with different families, adding to the backlog of immigration cases. 

"Human smugglers advertise and intending migrants know that even if they cross the border illegally, arriving at the border with a child has meant that they will be released into the United States to wait for court proceedings that could take 5 years or more," McAleenan explained. 

DHS reports that in the first 10 months of this fiscal year, US Customs and Border Patrol Protection agents apprehended or encountered almost 475,000 family members. In May alone, that number reached 88,000.

Ninety percent cross the US-Mexico border unlawfully between ports of entry. 

The regulations are expected to be formally published Friday and go into effect in 60 days absent legal challenges.

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