The U.S. government has been detaining illegal immigrants and breaking up families regardless of whether they are first-time offenders, asylum-seekers, or parents with small children at the Mexico border. On Wednesday, June 13, an MSNBC correspondent tweeted a first look at the kinds of facilities where unaccompanied minors are being detained. This Twitter thread about a migrant children's facility in Texas is startling and shows how much these detention centers resemble prison.
MSNBC journalist Jacob Soboroff was among the first journalists allowed inside a shelter for unaccompanied migrant children in Texas, called Casa Padre. In the wake of a "zero tolerance" policy rolled out by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, which sought to shore up the U.S. border and decrease illegal immigration, these kinds of facilities have become backlogged with people. Soboroff reported that the Casa Padre shelter received a variance from the state because of overcrowding — the space allows for four boys per room, but nearly every room has five.
"Just finished tour, don’t even know where to start," Soboroff tweeted Wednesday. "One of the first things you notice when you walk into the shelter — no joke — a mural of Trump with the quote 'sometimes losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.' Presidential murals everywhere. But that one is 1st." (That quote is apparently ripped from Trump's book, The Art of The Deal, in reference to one of his real estate projects, because of course.)
I have been inside a federal prison and county jails. This place is called a shelter but these kids are incarcerated. No cells and no cages, and they get to go to classes about American history and watch Moana, but they’re in custody.
McClatchy reported on Tuesday, June 12, that since Sessions' "zero tolerance" policy was set in motion, the number of migrant children held in custody without their parents has increased by more than 20 percent. The Trump administration is also reportedly considering putting migrant children in tent cities in military posts along the border, as capacity concerns increase. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is reportedly set to visit the area in the coming weeks to survey the feasibility of building a "tent city" that would hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children, McClatchy reported, citing U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the plans. The Administration for Children and Families tells Elite Daily sites in Texas are being reviewed "for potential use as temporary shelters for unaccompanied" minors.
You might be thinking, "Trump's been yelling about building a wall and kicking out immigrants forever. Why is this all coming to a head now?" Well, the biggest change so far has come with that Sessions' policy rollout in April. Before the new Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, there was a more relaxed (and arguably, humane) approach to handling asylum seekers and families with small children. Now, as The Intercept's reporter Ryan Devereaux noted on Twitter, everyone gets prosecuted.
"A public defender [in Tucson, Arizona] told me that in terms of family separations, most of the cases she’s seen have involved first time offenders," Devereaux added. "That’s a federal misdemeanor. People are losing their kids over misdemeanors."
Lawmakers have been quick to voice their disgust at the policy of breaking up families and prosecuting first time offenders at the border. Sen. Dianne Feinstein tweeted of growing support among senators to pass legislation to prevent families from being separated at the border. Others highlighted heartbreaking tales of families being split up, like earlier this week when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained a Los Angeles man who'd lived in the U.S. for 50 years in front of his family.
The uptick in detained migrant children and others attempting to cross the border is not only cruel, but it's probably untenable. To stick to this policy would be costly, according to analysis by Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), so much so that it could break the U.S. court system entirely. Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general under President Barack Obama, told McClatchy that it's much more expensive to separate parents and children to hold them in separate facilities. Worse yet, there's not a whole lot of proof that this cruel practice even deters people from attempting to cross the border, per the Vera Institute of Justice.
If you're feeling helpless, you can always call your elected officials and let them know that you know what's up. If you call (202) 224-3121 you can tell them that you want to see an end to the cruel and misguided separation of families at the border, because you know it doesn't work.