In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors to implement his "zero tolerance" policy at the Mexico border — punishing illegal immigrants regardless of whether they are first-time offenders, asylum-seekers, or parents with small children. That policy has apparently contributed to a rising number of unaccompanied children in U.S. custody, and now the Trump administration is reportedly considering a shocking solution to that overcrowding. Trump reportedly wants to put migrant children in tent cities, which has me a bit speechless.
Use of the phrase "tent cities" has already been panned by critics of the move, who insist that these temporary shelters would effectively be prison camps used to house children who are being detained by the government. The consideration was first reported by McClatchy on Tuesday, June 12, and would include shelters placed around parts of Texas military posts. 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. Elite Daily reached out to the HHS for comment on this report, but did not hear back at time of publication.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS is tasked with caring for the more than 11,200 unaccompanied migrant children, which involves repeatedly assessing the needs and capacity of approximately 100 shelters. Those shelters have experienced about a 20 percent uptick since April, per McClatchy, and are now about 95 percent full.
President Donald Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have both argued that the blame for the buildup lies not with the administration's immigration policy at the border, but with legal loopholes that prevent them from being able to deport children fast enough. Yes. You read that right.
“It can take months and sometimes years to adjudicate those claims once they get into the federal immigration court system, and they often fail to appear for immigration proceedings,” Rosenstein said at an immigration forum on Long Island in May. “In fact, approximately 6,000 unaccompanied children each year fail to appear when they've been summoned. They're released and they don't show up again.”
As a deterrent, the Trump administration has also implemented a policy of separating children from their parents as they try to cross the border. In a June 5 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Sessions explained why he believed such practice was necessary, saying,
What's happening is we are having more people coming bringing children with them entering between the ports of entry, between the ports of entry illegally, and they're not, you cannot give them immunity. That's an offense. We believe every person that enters the country illegally like that should be prosecuted.
The HHS has also decided to relocate about 1,600 detainees to federal prisons because it lacks the space, per Reuters. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the administration’s family separation practices as they pertain to asylum-seekers, per The Intercept, and has remained a dogged critic of the Trump administration's immigration policy in general.
“The last thing the government should be doing is putting immigrants into prisons so that it can detain even more people who pose no threat to anyone," Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. "Many of those being transferred should not be detained at all, and they include parents who have been separated from their children and people fleeing persecution. The government is further compounding a humanitarian crisis of its own making.”
The human consequences shrugged off by Sessions and the Trump administration have angered critics in the weeks since the tightened practices were rolled out. A Honduran father separated from his wife and child killed himself in a Texas jail in May after suffering a breakdown, U.S. authorities confirmed to NBC News. Last month, reports circulated that the government had “lost” nearly 1,500 children who had arrived in the U.S. alone. (HHS argued that it is not their responsibility to keep track of children who are placed with U.S. sponsors, and that they weren't actually "lost.")
The immigration crackdown shows no signs of slowing down ahead of the November midterms, and could even be ramping up more. The Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a memo to all its immigration court staff to be prepared to travel between July and January to deal with "mass migration emergencies" and "enforcement initiatives," per Reveal reporter Aura Bogado.
As officials survey the area and consider erecting "tent cities" for migrant children, it will be interesting to see if the backlash for the cruel and inhumane policies has any affect on the administration's attitude. In the meantime, if you're feeling helpless like I am, you can support these organizations who are on the ground helping children in custody: Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, The Florence Project and Refugee Rights Project, United We Dream Action, La Union Del Pueblo Entero, We Belong Together, and Human Rights First.