Trump administration says longstanding court decree allows detaining migrant families

Washington: The White House intends to detain migrant families together but might therefore hold children longer than previously allowed, according to new court documents filed by the US Justice Department. “The government will not separate families but detain families together during the pendency of immigration proceedings when they are apprehended at or between ports of entry,” the Justice Department said in documents filed Friday as the Donald Trump administration struggles to quell fury over the controversial separation of minors from their families.

In Los Angeles, a decades-old federal court settlement known as the Flores Agreement mandates immigration officials release detained minors if they are held more than 20 days. In a separate case a US district judge in San Diego on Tuesday ordered that divided families be reunited within 30 days — and two weeks in cases involving children under five.

The Justice Department submission to the US judge in charge of the Flores Agreement calls attention to what it sees as a conflict between the two cases, saying the longstanding agreement “put the government in the difficult position of having to separate families if it decides it should detain parents for immigration purposes.”

“The rulings work together to permit detention of parents with their minor children with whom they are apprehended,” the government said, adding that an “amendment of the Flores Agreement is appropriate to address this issue.”

The filing does not say outright that the White House will detain families longer than 20 days but rather for the “pendency” of immigration proceedings — which could last months.

Faced with a barrage of criticism both at home and abroad Trump last week signed an executive order to halt the family separation practice, but made no specific provisions for those already split apart.

Some 2,000 children remain split from their parents, according to official figures released last weekend in the wake of international outrage over the stripping of minors from their parents believed to have crossed illegally at the US-Mexico border.

Trump has made fighting immigration — both illegal and legal — one of the most sacred mantras of his fiercely US-centered policy agenda.

Many trying to cross the US-Mexico border are destitute people fleeing gang violence and other turmoil in Central America.