Donald Trump’s attempt to dismantle vital protections for detained migrant children was squashed last Friday, when a federal judge blocked his new, despicable regulation that sought to jail kids and their families indefinitely. In her decision, Judge Dolly Gee called the administration’s attempt to end the decades-old Flores settlement “Kafkaesque.”
This was not the federal government’s first attempt to challenge these protections. It was disgraceful before, and it’s disgraceful now. But what the Trump administration has repeatedly sought to do is implement child abuse as a matter of official policy, from the discriminatory “public charge” rule change, to the obliteration of a right to asylum at the southern U.S. border, to family separation, just to name a few.
In the case of family separation, the American Civil Liberties Union returned to court earlier this month to block the administration from continuing to rip families apart at the southern border, telling a judge that officials have stolen kids from their families for reasons as minor and petty as a dirty diaper. “We’re talking about permanent trauma to these children for no real reason,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said.
But intentional cruelty has been the point. A career official with the Department of Health and Human Services told a House committee in April that he warned his superiors about the devastating emotional and physical effects of tearing a child from their parent, but had his concerns dismissed. A report from the HHS inspector general this month confirmed that separated kids suffer “fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress” due to the policy. Donald Trump chose child abuse.
When it comes to Flores, a decision in favor of an administration that has already had migrant children die under its watch would have been nothing short of catastrophic, advocates said, returning our nation “to an era of indefinite detention of children, an era of no independent monitoring to make sure that children are treated with basic human dignity while in custody.” Advocates remembered that, before Flores, “immigration agents were doing body cavity searches on migrant children.”
The administration had claimed that in place of Flores—which it despicably described as “outdated” and “legal loopholes”—it “would provide an unknown third party to oversee a facility's compliance with standards.” But does anyone trust an administration that kept a migrant girl’s death a secret for eight months? Or officials who compared migrant family jails to “summer camp,” but then refused to say whether they’d send their own kids there? What kind of parent would trust this administration with their kids?
The court’s decision is a victory for children and their families, but officials made it clear that their efforts to implement child abuse as official policy are not over: “Lawyers for the Trump administration are expected to appeal.” Attorneys who have defended Flores over the years are prepared to fight back, because it’s a matter of life or death. “The Flores settlement is the last bulwark against the Trump administration running roughshod over these children,” said attorney Carlos Holguin.