National Security

Border Rule ‘Establishes Very High Standards of Care for Children in Federal Custody’

Kevin McAleenan, head of Homeland Security, spoke to Fox News about allowing migrant families to remain together longer

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan spoke to Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” exclusively on Wednesday about a new rule that will end a 20-day catch-and-release policy for migrant families that are caught crossing the border illegally.

The administration says it will allow these families to be held indefinitely while they await a decision on their immigration status, without separating children from their parents.

“This is a significant step in increasing the integrity of our system and addressing, really, the core aspect of this crisis at our border, which has been the arrival of family units in absolutely record numbers,” said McAleenan.

“Through July we saw 475,000 family units [show up at the border]. That’s more than three times any previous full year, arriving at our border in just 10 months,” he said. “And they’ve been coming to exploit a vulnerability in our immigration framework that says if you have a child with you, you cannot be held for more than 20 days. And that’s not been long enough to complete an immigration proceeding.”

“So what this rule does,” he added, “is it establishes very high standards of care for children in federal custody, first and foremost, and implements the 20-year-old settlement. But it also allows us to keep families [together] through their immigration proceedings. These are fair and expeditious proceedings with an immigration judge.”

“And when we start getting results, when we repatriate those [who] don’t have a meritorious claim,” he also said, “we’re going to see a reduction in that flow significantly at the border. So it’s a big step and it’s a key aspect of our multi-layer strategy.”

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Related: Kevin McAleenan: 10 Things You Must Know About Him

Said Jon Scott, anchor of “America’s Newsroom,” “Your department has taken heat in the past for separating children from their parents. Now, you’re going to be keeping them together for a longer period of time — and you’re [already] taking heat for that.”

“Yes … This is what we did in 2014 and 2015 to end the first family crisis [at the border]. At that time, the Department of Homeland Security, under Secretary Jeh Johnson, established these family residential centers, where we’re going to be holding people. They’re very high-standard facilities. They’re campus-like settings with educational, medical, dining and separate, private living facilities. They’re not a holding facility. They’re non-secure.”

“And people are allowed to do, then, is finish their immigration proceedings while they’re in a federal center and we get a result. If they have a valid asylum claim, they get released with appropriate documents. That’s [the situation for] about 10 to 15 percent of [the] arrivals from Central America. But the rest [of the people] will be repatriated and we think that’s going to have a huge deterrent effect on the flow. That’s been our experience. That’s what happened in 2014. So [this] is a really important step,” he added.

Said co-anchor Sandra Smith, “So deterrence, obviously, is the key goal here, Mr. Secretary, but this has to be approved by a federal judge. This will almost immediately be challenged in court. What do you expect from that?”

“Whether it’s our Migrant Protection Protocols program with Mexico or the implementation of this new Flores rule, we’re going to be allowed to have proceedings conclude for families without being released into the U.S.”

“Certainly, this will be litigated,” said McAleenan. “What I can tell you, Sandra, is that we carefully considered over 100,000 comments from stakeholders from across the spectrum. This rule took a year to evaluate all the different comments. September 7th was when we published the first draft rule. This final rule has great faith and fidelity with the original purposes of the Flores Settlement Agreement, the changes in federal law and the changes in the migration patterns. We think it’s a very strong rule that establishes very high standards for conditions for children in custody and allows us to increase the integrity of the immigration system.”

“But our reporters like William La Jeunesse, who has spent a great deal of time south of the border, in Mexico and beyond, says the word is out in Central America that if you bring a child into the United States, you’re, you know, virtually guaranteed to be allowed to stay,” said Scott. “Does this address that?”

“Yes, Bill is exactly right … I heard from a father in Guatemala a few weeks ago on one of my visits there to try to address some of the root causes and go after the human smugglers with partners in the region. He basically said everybody knows that bringing a child is a passport for migration and release into the U.S. This helps us change that dynamic. We can send a very clear message: You are no longer going to be released into the U.S. Whether it’s our Migrant Protection Protocols program with Mexico or the implementation of this new Flores rule, we’re going to be allowed to have proceedings conclude for families without being released into the U.S.”

Jenny Beth Martin, the Tea Party Patriots Action honorary chairperson, reacted on Wednesday afternoon to the president’s action to close the loopholes that fuel the crisis at the border. “I am encouraged by President Trump’s announcement to end the Flores Agreement, a deeply flawed rule that has fueled a crisis at our southern border,” she said in a statement shared with LifeZette. “For more than two decades, this loophole has allowed smugglers to use young children as pawns for entry into the United States. This administration’s action reflects a commitment to securing our border and stopping the flow of illegal immigrants. Moreover, it will end the perverse incentive for smugglers and traffickers to abduct and abuse children for financial gain.”

See the rest of the Fox News interview with Kevin McAleenan today at this link.

This article has been updated to include Jenny Beth Martin’s statement.

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