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By: Sean Hemmersmeier

On Tuesday, November 6th, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Chicago led a coalition of 20 city and local governments in opposing the proposed rule changes around immigrant child-detention. Other notable members of the coalition include New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and the District of Columbia.

The coalition is specifically concerned with the proposed rules that were announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as well as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The proposed rule changes were announced this past September and specifically aiming to increase Suitability Assessments. The proposed rule would subject more people to background checks.

The rule changes would make the Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) less powerful. The FSA comes from the Supreme Court case Reno v. Flores. The case was about Jenny Flores, a 15 year-old from El Salvador. Flores was detained at the border by INS, and, while being held in a detention center, was stripped searched regularly and made to share the facility with unrelated adults. Flores’ aunt requested that Flores be released into her custody until her case was settled, but the INS refused since the aunt was not a legal guardian. The case ultimately resulted with the FSA being enacted. The FSA requires that the government must release children to a responsible adult, legal guardian, or vetted agency without unnecessary delay.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) released a report on the proposed rule changes. “The proposed rule would subject more people to background checks.”  Under the previous administration, the responsible adult only had to pass a fingerprint background test for the child to be released, according to the EPIC report. The new rules would require more detailed checks on adults and households into which the children would be released. The increase in checks would involve government agents interviewing household members, conducting home visits and follow up visits, as well as collecting personal information of any “individuals who happen to live in the same household as the sponsor,” according to the EPIC report.

Essentially, these rules would increase the strenuousness of the background checks and would not only check the sponsors, but also anyone who would cohabitate with any kid released from a detention center.

When emailed about additional questions, the Mayor’s Office sent a report of the coalition’s reasoning behind opposing the new rules. The following quotes come from this report.

The coalition is concerned with the news rules because they think it will “result in longer detentions and lower standards of care for immigrant children,” and the new rules would interfere with the ability of the local government agencies to properly serve their immigrant communities. The coalition also protests the new rules because they will impede each local government’s efforts to “serve all of their residents.”

The coalition argues that the main point of the FSA is to “protect immigrant children’s safety and well-being.” The coalition states that the new rules would weaken the FSA and make it more difficult for children to be released from government detention.

The coalition also says that the increased background checks create “burdensome requirements” for sponsors trying to have kids released. By the time each household member has been screened and house visits have taken place, the kids will have spent too much time in detention centers. Currently, detention centers release children within 20 days and if these rules take effect, it would increase the average holding time. Another fear around these proposed rule changes is that more children could end up being subjected to the mistreatment Flores faced while in detention centers.

Another reason why the coalition is against the new rules is that they are illegal, according to the coalition. They say the new rules violate the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in that they are arbitrary and are not based in legitimate rationale.  The APA defines arbitrary action by a government agency as “when it fails to provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” the coalition defines these new rules as arbitrary since the DHS and HHS do not provide enough legitimate reasoning.

There are 450,000 illegal immigrants living in Illinois, according to the American Immigration Council, so these proposed rules would have a direct impact on Chicago and Illinois. The coalition says that they “are where many of the families… will continue to go, after they are released from detention,” so Chicago sees itself as a government entity that is in part responsible for the welfare of these children.

The summary of the problems the coalition sees with the proposed rule changes are that “The rules strip away procedural, protection thereby interfering with the signatories’ ability to protect the health and welfare of these children.”  The new rules will hurt the children’s well being and will limit the amount of services these local governments can provide to these children. The coalition ends their report with a request for the DHS and HHS to withdraw the proposed rules since they are unlawful and will hurt children and the communities that these children will be released into.

 


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