A proposal by the Trump administration to detain immigrant families indefinitely uses fear and unjust imprisonment to feed an immigration policy that will hurt America’s standing in the world and its economy at home.

The proposed change calls for detaining families indefinitely as they await adjudication of their eligibility to enter the country. That would change the current rules adopted by a court 22 years ago that call for more humane detention of children with a targeted maximum of 20 days. The new rule would allow families to be detained together, instead of children being detained separately, as under current policy. But there would be no limit on how long they could all be detained.

Immigration cases can take years, and the proposed changes would create de facto prisons for immigrants.

The administration is proposing the rule under the so-called “Flores” settlement in which courts, the government and advocates for migrant children set up rules and conditions for child detentions. It called for better living conditions for the children and shorter stays.

The administration claims the proposed change is consistent with “implementation” of Flores, which is governed by a federal judge. The administration will propose the change to the court, but advocates say it is not likely the judge will view it as consistent with the Flores agreement.

The Trump administration says it wants to create disincentives for Central American immigrants, now flooding the border, to try to get into the country. They argue many take advantage of the Flores “loophole” and use children to get into the country illegally.

That strategy is attacking a symptom of the immigration problem without addressing the larger cause: the chaos and violence that continues to wreak havoc on Central American countries.

American immigration law allows people fleeing persecution to apply for asylum. Creating a prison-like system to discourage that isn’t consistent with American values, or with our longstanding policy to share our freedom with others who’ve never seen it.

That’s what makes America great.

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