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Trump's New Flores Rule Would Save Migrant Kids From Child Traffickers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Christian Torrez

A U.S. District Judge just temporarily blocked a new Trump administration rule that would ease the border crisis and save thousands of kids from child traffickers. That's a shame.

The rule in question amends the "Flores Agreement," a two-decade-old court settlement that prevents the government from holding migrant children in federal custody for more than a few weeks. That time limit was originally designed to protect immigrant children. But instead, it has put them in danger and fueled child trafficking.

The new measure would allow federal law enforcement to keep children and their parents together in detention for a far longer period. If courts uphold the rule, it'll save lives and humanely deter illegal immigration.

The Flores agreement traces its roots to a 1985 lawsuit filed by immigration activists. Those activists alleged that the federal government violated the constitutional rights of Jenny Flores, a 15-year-old Salvadoran who crossed the border illegally, by keeping her in detention rather than releasing her into the custody of her cousins.

The lawsuit ultimately worked its way to the Supreme Court. And in 1993, the justices sided with the government in a 7-2 ruling that upheld lengthy detentions for immigrant minors. The justices remanded the case back to lower courts, where proceedings continued for years.

Finally, in 1997, the Clinton administration settled with activists and agreed to hold children in the "least restrictive" setting possible and release them to family members "without unnecessary delay." In 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals broadened the settlement's scope and set a hard 20-day limit on detaining minors.  

The ruling leaves Border Patrol and ICE agents with two unattractive choices when they apprehend families: They can either release the children after three weeks, but keep detaining the parents.

Or they can release the adults and kids together, who will likely vanish into the interior United States. Ninety percent of recent illegal aliens given a court date skip their hearings, according to the Department of Homeland Security.  

To avoid separating families, agents have opted for the catch-and-release option. Children have become get-out-of-jail-free cards for illegal border crossers.

This perverse incentive fuels the border crisis. So far in fiscal year 2019, Border Patrol agents have apprehended over 800,000 illegal aliens -- more than they captured in all of 2018. May registered the highest one-month apprehension total, 133,000, in more than a decade. Officials apprehended another 95,000 illegal aliens in June and 72,000 in July.    

Mexican cartels now operate vast human smuggling rings that, for a price of up to $7,000 per adult, cram hundreds of Central Americans and their kids into a bus and transport them to the U.S. border. Customers then get out, sneak across the border and immediately turn themselves in to agents, knowing they'll soon be released if they have kids in tow.  

Cartels are even running print and social media advertisements promising that "if you bring a child, you will not be deported."

In a few cases, impoverished parents have even sold their children to human traffickers.  Border Patrol recently caught a man who purchased a six-month-old Guatemalan baby for $80 and tried to claim it as his child. Between April and September of last year, immigration officers separated 170 "families" for having no relation at all.  

This criminality endangers children's lives.

The journey from the jungles of Central America to the scorching deserts of the southern United States is extraordinarily treacherous. A Guatemalan toddler recently died in U.S. custody after contracting severe intestinal and respiratory diseases along the way.  

Some don't even make it to U.S. territory. One toddler and her father tragically drowned in the Rio Grande earlier this summer.

Democrats claim to be champions for these migrant children. But they've refused to reform Flores legislatively. And 20 blue states are suing the administration to block the new rule from taking effect.  

This intransigence, coupled with Democrats' proposals to decriminalize illegal border crossings and grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens already here, gives Central Americans a perverse incentive to continue putting their kids' lives in jeopardy.

The administration's new rule would bypass this legislative logjam and eliminate the 20-day cap established by Flores, thus allowing the government to humanely hold families together.

Let's hope courts uphold this reform -- children's lives hang in the balance.

Stacy Washington is a decorated Air Force Veteran, an Emmy nominated TV personality, and the host of the nationally syndicated radio program “Stacy on the Right.”  

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