President Donald Trump's administration announced on Wednesday that it would remove tough legal limits on how long migrant children can be detained as part of its broader crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
The Department of Homeland Security said it was terminating the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, a binding legal ruling that said the government could not hold migrant children in detention for more than 20 days.
The new policy, to be implemented in 60 days, will not limit how long children or their families can be detained.
The move is aimed at deterring migrant expectations that they will be released after being arrested by the US border authorities and able to disappear into the US population.
To protect these children from abuse, and stop this illegal flow, we must close these loopholes. This is an urgent humanitarian necessity, Trump said in a statement.
Kevin McAleenan, the acting DHS secretary, cited the challenge of an unprecedented flow of family units crossing the southern US border this year, most of them from Central America.
The Flores Settlement has generally forced the government to release families into the country after just 20 days, incentivizing illegal entry, he said.
Human smugglers advertise, and intending migrants know well, that even if they cross the border illegally, arriving at our border with a child has meant that they will be released into the United States to wait for court proceedings that could take five years or more.
Trump told reporters at the White House he was also considering ending birthright citizenship, repeating a previous administration pledge to end the policy of automatically designating babies born in the United States as American nationals.
We're looking at that very seriously, birthright citizenship. Where you have a baby on our land - you walk over the border, have a baby. Congratulations, the baby is now a US citizen, Trump said.
He dismissed the process - guaranteed under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution - as frankly ridiculous.