By Vatican News
The United States Government this past week announced its intention to overturn an agreement that safeguards immigrant children and ensure they are not kept in detention for more than a limited period of time.
The Flores Settlement Agreement
The Flores Settlement Agreement sets out foundational principles and critical protections regarding the care, custody, and release of immigrant children who are in federal custody. These include that they be housed in the least restrictive setting and in licensed facilities for childcare, and that they be freed as quickly as possible, usually after 20 days.
The Department of Homeland Security Rule
According to the new rule published by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, the government may detain immigrant children with their parents indefinitely. The government also reserves the right to determine the terms and conditions under which they are held in custody.
The United States Bishops’ response
The Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration is Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas. In a statement published on the USCCB website, he says the new rule will drastically undermine existing Flores Agreement protections for immigrant children in federal custody, and will have “heartbreaking consequences for immigrant children”.
Rule “unlawful and inhumane”
Describing the new rule as both “unlawful and inhumane”, Bishop Vásquez says “it will jeopardize the well-being and humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody and will result in children suffering long-lasting consequences of being held for prolonged periods in family detention”.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, those consequences often include developmental delay, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, and even suicide.
“Countless children will be harmed by this new rule”, concludes Bishop Vásquez, “and this is simply not acceptable.”