Migrant children face more serious health risks with longer detentions, groups warn

Families, especially children, will likely face more health risks if a new Trump administration plan to hold migrants in detention facilities for longer periods of time goes into effect in 60 days, when flu season will be in full swing, health experts and immigrant rights advocates warn.

Under the new rule, the Department of Homeland Security will be able to indefinitely “hold families together” while their immigration cases are settled in court and provide an “immigration system that is humane,” the agency said Wednesday.

The administration’s newly announced rule is a departure from the 1997 agreement known as the Flores Settlement, which requires immigration authorities to release migrant children from their custody within 20 days.

Health professionals and advocates criticized the administration’s announcement.

“Already, we have seen the harmful effects of the cruel conditions that resulted from the Trump administration illegally holding children in overcrowded and unsanitary border patrol facilities without access to basic needs and care,” said Katie Hamm, vice president for Early Childhood Policy at The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan research and educational institute. “Removing legal protections for children will remove any protection or standard of care, resulting in potentially irreparable harm to their health and development.”

Concerns over conditions have risen after the deaths of least seven children while in immigration custody under the Trump administration, at a time when a growing number of migrant families are presenting themselves at the border to seek asylum.

At least three of the children died of infectious diseases, such as the flu, over the last year. All three died while in the custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also known as CBP.

The agency told NBC News in a statement that migrants with the flu “may be diagnosed and treated onsite by CBP medical personnel, or may be referred as appropriate to the local health system for diagnosis and treatment,” adding that CBP currently counts approximately 200 medical personnel engaged along the Southwest border.