Update On Separated Children And The Flores Agreement
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Hundreds of immigrant children still remain separated from their parents months after a court ordered them reunited. But the Trump administration is still focusing on immigrant families crossing into the United States. This past week, the White House proposed new rules that seek to hold migrant parents and children together in detention until their case has been heard, a process that often takes months. And it's a practice that has been deemed illegal. To talk about how all this is playing out at the U.S.-Mexico border, we are joined now by Efren Olivares. He's an attorney at the Texas Civil Rights organization in McAllen, Texas. Welcome.
EFREN OLIVARES: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the Trump administration is trying to challenge a 1997 court settlement known as Flores v. Reno. And that limits how long migrant children can be kept in custody - no more than 20 days, if possible. And it also sort of details the kinds of conditions in which they stay, right?
OLIVARES: Exactly. And it provides that children are to be kept in the least restrictive setting.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. So what is the administration trying to argue now?
OLIVARES: Well, they are trying to circumvent that settlement agreement which is legally binding and has been for over 20 years now. And they have proposed regulations that would terminate the agreement and allow them to imprison children and adults, many of whom not only have never committed a crime but are actually asylum seekers for as long as many months and, in some cases, even years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you've been one of the lawyers at the forefront of reuniting families at the border. What are you seeing there? I mean, do detention centers have enough space even to hold families indefinitely?
OLIVARES: The family detention center - the family jails are at capacity for the most part. Both the Karnes facility in which fathers are being held and the Dilley detention center in which mothers are being held are both nearly at capacity. And because of zero tolerance, the number of people that are being prosecuted and incarcerated keeps growing and growing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you tell me right now what's happening at the border? Are we seeing an influx of people coming over? And what's being done with them right now?
OLIVARES: Well, for example, last Tuesday, the day after the Labor Day weekend, there were about 200 people being criminally prosecuted for the misdemeanor of illegal entry. And all of them sentenced to time served. And that keeps going and as long as zero tolerance is in place, that will continue to be the case. Many of these adults were traveling with underage relatives, siblings, cousins and other relatives, and they are being separated from them. And in some cases, the adult is the only caretaker of that child. So that continues to be a huge problem here in South Texas.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what you're saying is that it's not only parents being separated from their children but sometimes relatives being separated from children. And that's still happening.
OLIVARES: That is very much still happening. For the most part, parents are not being separated from their own children, although we've had a couple of cases. But it's rather other relatives - siblings, cousins, grandchildren, nieces, nephews.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should mention that it's not just the Trump administration that has tried to overturn Flores. The Obama administration did, as well. Flores was designed to be temporary - pending formal regulations which Congress has not yet issued. So it's not just the Trump administration that's had problems with this regulation.
OLIVARES: No, not at all. And then the Obama administration, in fact, expanded family detention significantly. We should not lose sight of that, as you say. The problem is that now things are getting much worse. And trying to detain children indefinitely - it's a very, very problematic policy proposal that runs in the face of international human rights standards when it comes to children.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the main reasons that the administration says they're doing this is because they want to deter people from crossing the border illegally into the United States. Do you see it working?
OLIVARES: No, not at all. And to the extent that's their intention, you know, this only addresses the pull factors for immigration and asylum seekers. So regardless of what policies the U.S. government puts in place, the situation in those countries is so bad that it's causing a lot of people to escape. And that continues to be the case, regardless of what policy is implemented in the U.S..
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Efren Olivares is an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights organization. Thank you so very much.
OLIVARES: Thank you.
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