On Sunday, the New York Times published a story about the Trump administration's latest onslaught against immigrant children, describing "a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in West Texas" where more than 1,600 kids had been deposited. Unlike the detention facilities the children were brought from—often after being woken up in the middle of the night so as not to give them advance warning—this new place had little in the way of amenities, limited access to lawyers, and no school. The most telling part of the story, however, may have been how the administration responded.
“It is common to use influx shelters as done on military bases in the past, and the intent is to use these temporary facilities only as long as needed,” a Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson told the Times. “The number of families and unaccompanied alien children apprehended are a symptom of the larger problem, namely a broken immigration system."
That the US immigration system is broken is not really up for debate—Congress has been trying to reform it for decades and failing, mostly thanks to conservative opposition. But the "tent city" is not a symptom of that "larger problem" so much as it is the result of conscious decisions made by the Trump administration. And America can't let the blanket issue of immigration conceal the specific ways its current government has chosen to make the system more cruel and inhumane.
As the Times story notes, the real issue is that the number of migrant children in detention is at 13,000, an all-time high. This is not tied to the controversial family separation policy; most of these children came across the border alone. What has happened is that kids are staying in detention longer: "The average length of time that migrant children spend in custody has nearly doubled [since last year], from 34 days to 59," the Times reported.
Normally, HHS only keeps these children until a sponsor—often a relative or family friend—is found to take them in. But in a recent policy change, ICE is detaining and arresting undocumented immigrants who want to sponsor kids, a potentially major shift because many would-be sponsors are undocumented. This of course has made it harder to find sponsors, leading to a larger detainee population, and a world in which American officials somehow saw fit to move kids to a tent city in Texas.
Just as the Trump administration's family separation policy was a hamfisted, jackbooted attempt to make life hard for immigrants with no thought as to the practical or political consequences, ICE's crackdown on sponsors has helped foment a crisis. There's no easy answer as to what should be done with unaccompanied minors who cross the border illegally or in search of asylum and get detained by the US government. But the Trump administration has made things worse and erected yet another monument to needless human misery.
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