On Monday, the UNLV Immigration Clinic filed a public comment on a proposal by the federal government to change regulations that govern the detention of unaccompanied children. Our Edward M. Bernstein & Associates Children’s Rights Program is dedicated to defending children who arrived in the United States alone, nearly all of them fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. If enacted, the proposal would undo protections for children that have been in place since the Flores Settlement in 1997.
We urge the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to reconsider their proposal because it would lead to unnecessary, and potentially indefinite, detention of immigrant children and severely limit their access to due process. Among other problems with the proposal:
- It would forbid the release of children to family members other than parents even when a suitable placement with a family member is available. Since 2014, we have represented well over 100 unaccompanied children who were released to a sponsor who was a family member other than a parent, very often to aunts, uncles, cousins, and older siblings. Under the new proposal, these children would be kept detained in government facilities instead of allowing them to live with relatives. This confinement could last years.
- Detaining children in remote government facilities will make it nearly impossible for many of them to obtain legal representation. It is clear from our experience and from national data that when children have legal representation, they are often able to stay in the United States legally. Without it, children who have viable legal claims under American immigration law are likely to be deported.
- The proposal would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement and third party contractors to regulate facilities that will hold children, rather than rely on state child welfare agencies which have expertise on child protection. We do not believe that ICE its private contractors will provide adequate protection of immigrant children.
- The proposed regulation would allow for unaccompanied children to be held with unrelated adults for longer than 24 hours. This is unacceptable under any circumstances.
- The proposed rule would allow the government to withhold food from children in “emergencies,” which are loosely and broadly defined.
- The government claims that it is unable to provide a cost estimate for the child detention operations that it plans to carry out. We believe that the government can provide a realistic estimate of these costs, and that the public has a right to know this information before these plans are implemented.
Our full comment is available here.