The Trump administration on Wednesday said it would unveil a new rule that will allow migrant families to be held indefinitely, ending a procedure known as the "Flores Agreement" that had required children to be held no longer than 20 days.
The decision is a momentous change in detainee policy that the administration has sought to make to provide a disincentive for people crossing the border.
“This rule allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress,” acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a statement.
Under the terms of the 1997 consent decree which eventually led to the 20-day limit in Flores, the regulation must be approved by the judge in the original case, Judge Dolly M. Gee of United States District Court for the Central District of California.
Gee denied the administration’s request last year to extend family detentions after in 2015 ruling that officials could not hold children in unlicensed facilities longer than 20 days.
Trump officials have sought to address Gee’s concerns with indefinite detention by creating a federal government licensing regime which includes public audits of facilities conducted by a third party.
Under the new system, immigrant families could be held for the duration of their court proceedings, which officials claim can be resolved within three months.
The Trump administration has frequently blamed the Flores Agreement for the spike in family border crossings over the last few years, claiming the promise of eventual release creates an incentive to enter the country illegally.
The new rule would establish new standards for conditions in detention centers while simultaneously removing the 20-day maximum detention limit which has existed for decades.
"Large numbers of alien families are entering illegally across the southern border, hoping that they will be released into the interior rather than detained during their removal proceedings," the two agencies that created the rule, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.
"Promulgating this rule and seeking termination of the FSA [the Flores Agreement] are important steps towards an immigration system that is humane and operates consistently with the intent of Congress.
The rule will be published in the Federal Register on Friday and will be effective 60 days later — if it is approved by the courts.