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EDITORIAL: Now thousands of families — kids, too — will be locked up by Trump

A Mexican woman holds a doll next to children at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry, in the US-Mexico border in Chihuahua state, Mexico on Wednesday. | Herika Martinez/AFP/ Getty

President Donald Trump no longer wants to separate children from their parents when they cross illegally into our country from Mexico.

Now he wants to put whole families into camps. And he wants to detain them indefinitely.

On a scale of decency, that’s not much of an upgrade.

EDITORIAL

Children still will be punished for the perceived sins of adults, and the Trump administration has no plan to reunite with their parents the more than 2,300 children already being detained.

Nobody should be fooled. Our president hasn’t found a heart. He’s still dead-set on locking up kids — albeit now with their parents — on a scale that recalls the Japanese-American incarceration camps during World War II.

History has shamed our country for that action, and history will shame us again.

Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to keep migrant families together, after lying for days that the matter was out of his hands.

We doubt the pope’s call for mercy swayed this president much. Trump doesn’t put much stock in the opinion of foreigners. And we doubt he was moved by the outrage expressed by good Americans everywhere — of every political stripe — who, honest to God, love this country and are tired of a president who makes it hard to feel proud.

Maybe it was Ivanka. Trump does listen to his daughter, if not his callow sons, and she personally appealed to her dad to have a heart.

But as we say, it’s a pinched heart. Get ready to see thousands of perfectly fine families — padres, madres and hijos — being locked away for weeks, months or even years.

In 2016, a California court ruled that a federal consent decree does not allow children in deportation cases to be detained for more than 20 days, even if they are with their parents. Now Trump has ordered his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to ask the court to modify that ruling so that children can be held longer. His game of using children as bargaining chips in the larger political battle over immigration continues.

The consent decree — the Flores settlement agreement — was named for a teen from El Salvador, Jenny Lisette Flores, who filed suit against the federal government in 1985. The agreement not only limits how long children can be detained, but also established basic guidelines for their care. They must, for example, be sheltered in facilities with reasonable temperatures and be kept physically safe.

Do the detention centers and tent camps the Trump administration has recently established measure up? And what about the new “family” detention centers sure to come?

We haven’t a clue. The shelters are shrouded in secrecy. Reporters have been denied entry. Even U.S. senators have been barred.

“It’s not as easy to go to each of these places and inspect and know what are the conditions that folks are being subjected to, whether they meet constitutional standards or standards set in Flores or elsewhere,” Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in an interview with the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Wednesday.

Four years ago, when Barack Obama was president, there also were questions about conditions at detention centers. But Trump has ramped up the worry, given his hostility toward undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. In his mind, they are “rapists” and “murderers.” In his mind, they “infest” our country.

It is highly unlikely the Trump administration will succeed in convincing a court to modify the Flores decree to allow the government to detain children longer. The Obama administration also sought a modification of the decree and failed.

What then? We fear the Trump administration will again separate children from detained parents, which apparently is entirely lawful — just reprehensible.

The onus is on Congress now. It can pass laws that improve the entire deportation hearing process and prohibit the Trump administration from detaining children indefinitely.

Congress won’t. Not this Republican Congress.

And whole families, small children included, will be detained in ever greater and shameful numbers in the Land of the Free.

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