The Trump administration on Thursday (September 6) said it will abandon a 1997 court agreement that limits how long migrant children can be detained. Officials proposed new regulations that would allow the government to detain children indefinitely while their families’ immigration cases are decided.

The proposed rule would withdraw the federal government from the Flores agreement, which requires immigrant children to be detained in the least restrictive setting possible and that they be released after 20 days of incarceration.

Because of these child detention restrictions, families detained upon crossing the United States-Mexico border have generally been released while they await the results of their asylum requests.

“Today, legal loopholes significantly hinder the department’s ability to appropriately detain and promptly remove family units that have no legal basis to remain in the country,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told The Washington Post in a statement. “This rule addresses one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration and allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress,” she added.

While DHS officials say termination of the Flores agreement will speed up the government’s handling of asylum requests, immigration advocates decried the proposal as an affront to child migrants’ rights.

“It’s sickening to see the government look for ways to jail more kids for longer,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted. “Yet another example of the Trump administration’s hostility towards immigrants resulting in a policy incompatible with basic human values.”

The proposed rule comes two months after the Trump administration began separating thousands of migrant children from their parents as part of the government’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Weeks later, amid national and international outcry, President Trump signed an executive order ending the policy, but not before more than 2,500 children were separated from their families. 

More than a month after the court-ordered deadline to reunite all families, some 500 children remain separated and detained.

The new rule proposed by the Trump administration would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to increase the number of family detention centers, and would not limit the amount of time children can remain detained. 

It would also allow immigration authorities to incarcerate children in centers that are not licensed by state authorities. Instead, an auditor hired by DHS would see that detention sites comply with ICE standards.

Immigrant rights groups are certain to challenge the government’s proposals in court. They say the government’s proposed changes will only worsen conditions for detained children.

“The Trump administration’s decision to exacerbate the suffering of kids, by imposing the cruel policy of family separation earlier this summer and now with this rule change to vastly expand detention of children, is horrifying,” Rachel Prandini, an attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told The Washington Post.