President Trump on Wednesday called on all federal agencies to play their parts in helping the administration handle immigrants arriving at the border, saying leaders should make facilities available to hold families awaiting court proceedings.
The order came amid significant backlash on Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, that led the Homeland Security Department to separate parents from their children as the parents faced prosecution for violating immigration laws. It would potentially allow families to stay together throughout their court processes, creating a need for more detention facilities.
Trump tasked all agency heads with making available to DHS “for the housing and care of alien families pending court proceedings for improper entry” any facilities “appropriate for that purpose.” DHS would, to the extent possible, be on the hook for reimbursing agencies. The order specifically called on the Defense Department to make facilities available, and to construct new ones as allowable by law.
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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday expressed an openness to that idea, according to The Hill.
The need for additional detention facilities could be aggravated by Trump’s recent claim that he does not want any more immigration judges, who work under the Justice Department.
“And ultimately, we have to have a real border, not judges,” Trump said this week. “Thousands and thousands of judges they want to hire.” The president did not elaborate on to whom he was referring, but explained his conversations this way: “ ‘Sir, we'd like to hire about five or six-thousand more judges.’ Five or six-thousand? Now, can you imagine the graft that must take place?”
Trump said he did not want judges, but “security on the border.” That stance, plus the recent influx of immigrants and the new policy to detain all of them, would add pressure to an already backlogged system. There are currently more than 700,000 cases pending before the nation’s immigration courts.
One hiccup in Trump’s plan is the 1997 court decision known at the Flores Settlement, and a subsequent 2016 ruling, which defines the conditions in which immigrant children can be held and limits the length of their detentions to just 20 days. The order said Attorney General Jeff Sessions would seek a revision to the settlement, but did not specify what would happen to families detained in the interim period.
Under Trump’s order, immigrant families will remain in DHS custody. Currently, minors separated from their parents are eventually transferred to the Health and Human Services Department. DHS spokespeople did not immediately respond to inquiries into whether it was drafting guidance on Trump’s order or how employees would be trained to implement it.