Kevin McAleenan: The monthly record for families arriving at the border jumped fourfold

On August 21, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced the finalization of regulations implementing the terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement of January 1997. This “final rule” is meant to allow for the termination of the Flores court settlement, which as it has been interpreted by later court decisions has been the primary factor behind the dramatic increases in the numbers of unaccompanied children and family units illegally entering the United States.

Under the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, the federal government has been limited to detaining unaccompanied minors for no more than 20 days. In a 2015 decision, a District Judge in California called Dolly Gee ruled that the 20-day limit should also apply to accompanied minors. The result has been a wave of migration from Central America, encouraged by the belief that bringing a child across the border would win them a “free ticket” into the United States.

The new rule announced on August 21 sets a national standard of care for children and families in custody. This would fulfill one of the central purposes of the 1997 Flores court settlement, namely to ensure appropriate care for all children. Moreover, the new rule will allow the federal government to house alien families together in appropriate facilities, while their cases are processed by the immigration court system, for so long as that takes.

What motivates the termination of the Flores Settlement Agreement?

Concurrent with the announcement, Kevin McAleenan, who formerly served as U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, held a press conference to discuss the new ruling. He presented the following information to emphasize the urgent need to resolve the crisis that the Flores agreement helped to create.

This year, we have seen an unprecedented flow of family units, primarily from Central America, coming to our Southwest Border. During the first 10 months of this fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended or encountered almost 475,000 families, 90% of whom crossed our border unlawfully between ports of entry—three times any previous full-year record. In the month of May alone, we saw 88,630 members of family units arrive at the border – four times the record month of the last major border surge.

Expected court challenges

The administration expected the new ruling to be challenged in court, and it took less than a week for that to happen, on a massive scale. On Monday, August 26, it was announced that attorneys general for 19 states and the District of Columbia had sued President Donald Trump’s administration, to block the sweeping new rule.