Mulvaney Defends Trump Admin Call For Long-Term Detention Of Migrant Families

Migrants are gathered inside the fence of a makeshift detention center in El Paso, Texas on Wed. March 27, 2019. Border Patrol in El Paso is saying that they are overwhelmed with unprecedented number of migrants at o... Migrants are gathered inside the fence of a makeshift detention center in El Paso, Texas on Wed. March 27, 2019. Border Patrol in El Paso is saying that they are overwhelmed with unprecedented number of migrants at over 12,000 currently in custody. Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is calling the situation at the El Paso border a "crisis" and asking for Congressional assistance. (Photo by Sergio Flores for The Washington Post via Getty Images) MORE LESS

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Sunday defended Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s request that Congress legalize the detention of migrant children together with their parents, potentially for years.

“It shouldn’t surprise anybody that we’re turning to what some folks might think [are] extreme measures,” Mulvaney told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl in an interview. “Because the way it’s supposed to work is not working. We’re supposed to fix this by changing the laws; Democrats won’t do that.”

In a letter to Congress dated Thursday, Nielsen noted the recent uptick in migrants and asylum seekers encountered at the border and suggested — among many other proposals — that Congress legalize jailing children and parents together in familial detention centers.

“DHS seeks authority to return UACs [“unaccompanied alien children”] to their families and home countries in a safe and orderly manner if they have no legal right to stay,” Nielsen wrote. “In the coming days, I will transmit proposed legislative language to Congress to fix this, along with measures to allow DHS to keep alien families in custody together through the immigration process…”

Currently, the so-called Flores settlement prohibits migrant children from being held in detention longer than 20 days.

Last summer, as the fallout from the Trump administration’s family separation policy made international headlines, the Justice Department sought to change the Flores settlement, following Trump’s executive order on the matter.

In the order, Trump instructed the Justice Department to seek judicial permission “to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.” Judge Dolly Gee reacted angrily to the request, rejecting it.

The administration announced in September that it would try re-writing the rules again.

If Flores is done away with, families with young children may be detained for months or years as their asylum cases proceed through the immigration court system, which is known for its lengthy backlog and overworked judges.

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