The federal government is currently looking to house thousands of migrant children and families in new locations, including military bases and, potentially, new facilities to be managed by private corporations already heavily-involved in the American detention system.
The present means of handling undocumented immigrant families - the number of which has grown since the Trump administration’s implementation of a zero tolerance policy on illegal immigration - has drawn extreme criticism from throughout the political spectrum, as reports of family separations, the failure of the government to reunify those separated families, the consentless medicating of children, and potential indefinite detention of undocumented individuals have stirred some portion of the free American conscience. Of the over 700 children not yet unified with their families, the parents of over 400 of them have already been deported.
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing to address some of these concerns with the heads of agencies involved in family detention operations on the United States border: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Executive Office For Immigration Review, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“No child should be used as a pawn, subjected to sexual assault, extreme heat, or other criminal behavior by smugglers and traffickers seeking to make a buck on behalf of the most vulnerable,” Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the committee, said, referencing those minors who crossed into the country with unrelated adults; no reference was made to the organizations hired by DHS that have also been found to mistreat their wards.
There are currently three facilities used for family detention in the country: Berks Family Residential Center (Leesport, Pennsylvania), Karnes County Residential Center (Karnes City, Texas), and South Texas Family Detention Center (Dilley, Texas). However, given the number of individuals currently being held, it’s likely that additional facilities will be added; Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently issued a Request for Information to gather perspectives on how additional facilities might be solicited. In addition, steps are being taken to provide facilities at military bases; Goodfellow Air Force Base was recently cleared for such construction.
With so few facilities currently operating for these purposes, this moment provides a good opportunity to develop public accountability and oversight measures for these facilities and military locations. The ability to haphazardly house migrant minors has previously been limited by what is known as the Flores settlement. But the federal government has expressed repeatedly that it would like the Department of Homeland Security to be exempted from its provisions, which prevent the detention of children for longer than 20 days, claiming that statutorily-mandated guidelines would be preferable; however, there’s no guarantee that if the Flores settlement is nullified in this situation, Congressional alternatives would be provided or passed.
MuckRock will continue to request and release information around current standards and detention practices. In the meantime, you can help our effort by sending us your comments below.
Image via CBP Flickr