The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Los Angeles, was the first in an expected flurry of litigation seeking to stop the rule, officially published on Friday, from taking effect in October, Reuters reported.
“This new Trump rule callously puts at risk the safety and well-being of children. It undermines a decades-old agreement reached in court by the federal government to prevent the unlawful detention of immigrant children,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in announcing the lawsuit.
The new rule seeks to scrap a 1997 agreement, known as the Flores settlement, which puts a 20-day limit on how long children can be held in immigration detention.
The settlement was expanded in 2015 to apply not just to unaccompanied children but also to those traveling with their parents.
Trump administration officials say the detention limits have become a “pull” factor for migrants, who hope that if they show up at the US-Mexico border with a child and ask for asylum, they will be allowed in pending a hearing in US immigration court, a practice the president has called “catch-and-release.”
The Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the Flores settlement are likely to face more than just legal hurdles.
Even if the courts allow the new rule to take effect, there are also practical problems: paying for thousands of additional family detention beds.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has only three family detention facilities – two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania – that have between 2,500 and 3,000 beds, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said in announcing the rule last week.
More than 42,000 families, mostly from Central America, were arrested along the US southern border just last month. The July arrest numbers are at record highs, even though they have dropped more than half compared with levels seen in May.
“Even if the number of border crossings doesn’t go back up in the fall, all this (new rule) would enable them to do is to detain a relatively small percentage of the arriving families for longer,” said Kevin Landy, a former ICE assistant director responsible for the Office of Detention Policy and Planning under the Obama administration.