San Antonio, Texas — We are shocked and saddened that, after four years of widespread public condemnation to migrant children being held in cages at the border, this country is still detaining kids for nothing more than crossing a border. These children have relatives in the country and should be immediately reunited with them.
The Biden administration’s announcement on Monday that children would start being held at a facility in Carrizo Springs represents a chilling continuity of the Trump administration’s attitudes towards immigrants. It reinforces the notion that immigrants—including unaccompanied children—are less than human and should be warehoused away from the general population instead of being reunited with relatives in the United States.
Though the Carrizo Springs facility is different from the “cages” denounced during the Trump administration, it is still an unsuitable facility for children who have already endured great hardship. The cages of the Trump administration (and the Obama and Bush administrations before him) were perreras or hieleras operated by Customs and Border Protection that held children in deplorable conditions, including in freezing cells where children covered in Mylar slept on concrete floors. The Carrizo Springs facility is, instead, an emergency reception center operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, meant to hold children temporarily when other ORR facilities are full.
Because they are temporary in nature, children are often held in conditions that aren’t equivalent to other ORR detention centers, which already have a history of well-reported abuses, including sexual harassment and a lack of proper background checks. Children are also meant to be held in emergency reception centers for short periods of time, but in our experience working at these centers, we know kids are sometimes held for longer periods of time and often have to start their immigration cases while held in these “temporary” locations. So although these children are kept in so-called “protective environments,” they are in fact being processed for deportation.
We also know the Trump administration weaponized these facilities, providing the government the ability to separate families by creating a place to send separated children, and shared information with ICE that was given by the children about their potential sponsors in the United States, information that was used by ICE for deportations. These horrors could happen again.
Any detention of children is harmful, and adding constant transfers from one detention center to another only exacerbates these harms, especially since most children in detention have relatives in the country.
We are demanding that 1) the government immediately reunite children with their families without any additional burdens, 2) the government ensures that children with no safe or appropriate caregiver in the United States are taken out of removal proceedings and given access to refugee services, and 3) all children receive access to an attorney.
RAICES is serving children in Carrizo because it is critical that every child know their rights and have legal representation. We provide “know your rights” presentations to children in custody as well as individual intakes to assess their immigration case. We also help them in immigration court and zealously represent their interests for as long as they are detained in our region.
We need a system that seeks real well-being for immigrants. The president has the authority to end detention. Children and families do not have to suffer in these facilities.
Contact: Jessica Ortiz