WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled a regulation to allow it to indefinitely detain migrant families who illegally cross the border. The rule replaces a decades-old court agreement that mandates a level of care for migrant children and limits how long the government can hold them in custody.

The White House has for more than a year pressed the Department of Homeland Security to find a way to eliminate the agreement, known as the Flores settlement, which limits the time children can spend in detention and establishes minimum standards for the holding facilities for families and children. Immigration hard-liners inside the administration say the move is crucial to halting the flow of migrants across the southwestern border.

The administration’s message to families fleeing Central American is blunt: Come here and we will lock you up. Critics say it is the latest in a series of policies by President Donald Trump meant to close off the United States from the rest of the world.

“One of the things that will happen, when they realize the borders are closing — the wall is being built, we are building tremendous numbers of miles of wall right now in different locations — it all comes together like a beautiful puzzle,” Trump said Wednesday.

The new regulation will require approval from a federal judge, and administration officials said they expected it to be immediately challenged in court. But once in effect, it would specifically abolish a 20-day limit on detaining families in immigration jails.

“What this will do is to substantially increase our ability to end the catch and release challenges that have fueled this crisis,” Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, said Wednesday in a news conference.

But immigration rights advocates denounced the new regulation, accusing Trump and his administration of purposely treating families and children poorly.

“This is yet another cruel attack on children, who the Trump administration has targeted again and again with its anti-immigrant policies,” said Madhuri Grewal, federal immigration policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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