The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which requires all immigrants crossing the U.S. border between ports of entry to be criminally prosecuted, has resulted in thousands of children separated from their parents, and now the president’s executive order ending separations could see countless families essentially interned on U.S. military bases.
President Trump’s executive order issued Wednesday seeks to keep families together in detention while both parents and children await decisions on their immigration and criminal court cases. With Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facilities already at or near capacity, the order requires the Secretary of Defense to make “any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families” and to ”construct such facilities if necessary.”
Among the likely facilities are three in Texas, the Army’s Fort Bliss and Dyess and Goodfellow Air Force Bases. The Department of Health and Human Services visited those sites before Trump’s order to determine their fitness for operating on-base facilities. Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas is also under consideration.
One soldier – stationed at Fort Bliss, which is currently under consideration for constructing a camp – told the Daily Beast he is unsure such military installations have are capable of meeting families’ needs, saying, “in terms of caring for them in a humanitarian way, I’m not too sure.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions petitioned a federal judge last week to modify the 1997 Flores settlement, which disallows the detainment of children for longer than 20 days and specifies the conditions under which they may be held, in an effort to hold entire families for indefinite periods of time.
Claiming a border “crisis” compels detention of misdemeanor border crossings, lest the government “permit such illegality by releasing all aliens after apprehension,” the Justice Department requested the court modify Flores to permit families to be detained together for a prolonged, uncertain period until they can have their case heard by an immigration judge. The department also asked the court to release ICE “family residential” facilities from a state licensure requirements.
This means both adults and children – some of whom are infants and toddlers – could be kept in conditions which are inadequate and ill-suited for childcare for months, if not years, until their immigration cases are resolved.
Maureen Franco, head of the federal public defender’s office in El Paso, told the Daily Beast such inhumane treatment “is no solution to the current situation”.
Many of the immigrants being tried under zero tolerance are crossing for the first time and have no criminal histories, said Franco, who scoffed at Trump’s insistence that criminals and MS-13 gang members are “pouring” over the border. Many are fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere in Central and South America.
“Terror overcomes deterrence,” Franco said. “When you’re coming from Guatemala and you have lawlessness in your country and the government isn’t doing anything to stop it, they’re going to do the thing that any person would do: get your child out of there.”