AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Trump administration wants to be able to put migrant children in detention facilities indefinitely. Right now, children have to be released from jail-like settings as quickly as possible under the terms of a decades-old court agreement. Administration officials have called that a loophole, and they've made no secret of their desire to get rid of it. Today they proposed regulations that would do just that. Joining me now is NPR's Joel Rose. And, Joel, we've heard a lot about migrant kids being separated from their parents at the Southwest border in recent months. Now what does the government say that it wants to do with them?
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, the Trump administration says it wants to be able to detain migrant families crossing the border illegally and hold them together in detention facilities. When they were separating families, the administration sent the kids to live in less-restrictive shelters. Now the administration has backed off of that policy, as you know. But it doesn't want to release these families either. It wants to detain them until their immigration court hearings.
CORNISH: Why didn't they do this before?
ROSE: Because of a longstanding agreement called the Flores settlement, which says, among other things, that if kids are detained in jail-like settings, they have to be released quickly. The administration and other immigration hard-liners hate Flores. They say families that are detained after illegally crossing the Southwest border are often released into the U.S. to wait for their day in immigration court and that many of them simply don't show up. And they say that all this is creating an incentive for people to cross illegally with their kids.
CORNISH: Can the government just replace Flores with actual regulations? I mean, is it binding?
ROSE: The settlement has been enforced for decades. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have tried to get out from under some of its requirements without success. Now the Trump administration is arguing that it can replace Flores with regulations. And they also say they'll continue to provide for these children and treat them with, quote, "dignity." I should note that Flores doesn't just govern how long kids can be held in detention. It also includes all kinds of rules about safety and oversight at detention centers and shelters.
CORNISH: What do the immigration attorneys on the other side of that settlement say?
ROSE: They're furious. They say that they just can't trust the Trump administration to regulate itself on these matters. They allege that children have already been held under inhumane conditions at the border. Here's one of those immigrant rights activists, Michelle Brane with the Women's Refugee Commission.
MICHELLE BRANE: These regulations undermine basic standards of care in any facility that is holding children - migrant children. And that includes the border where we've already seen a lot of abuses. They really are incredibly extensive in terms of how far they go to undermine child protection.
CORNISH: So what happens now?
ROSE: Immigrant rights activists have already said that they plan to sue to try to block these regulations. So the Trump administration likely has another protracted legal battle on its hands and more controversy about migrant families. Pediatricians and immigrant advocates say that detention is bad for kids. It's bad for their health and development. And so you're likely to see doctors and psychologists also lining up to oppose these regulations during the 60-day comment period that's about to begin.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you for your reporting.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.