What This Country Needs: More Jail Beds for Immigrant Kids

HHS tent city Tornillo

Tornillo tent city detention center (ORR photo

Remember the tent city in the Texas desert serving as a “temporary shelter” for children? It started with 360 beds, grew to 1,200, and now now the ironically named Department of Health and Human Services has announced plans to more than triple its size. Way back then (in June), HHS needed to open the tent city so they had room to put the children snatched from their parents at the border. Now that policy has been stopped, or so we are told, but HHS needs more beds for unaccompanied minors.

“HHS officials have “worked round the clock to add beds or add shelters to avoid any backup” at the border,” Wolfe added. He said the agency has 12,800 minors in its custody, the highest number ever. Minors spend an average of 59 days in HHS custody, up from 51 days in 2017.”

But don’t worry: the children imprisoned in the tent city are teenagers, not babies, so that makes it all right.

DHS is scheduled to release its most arrest numbers later today. They are expected to show continuing large numbers of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America, though still fewer than in 2014.

The administration’s answer: lock ‘em up. Lock everybody up. That includes parents fleeing gang violence, who are now accused of gang connections by immigration authorities. One of those accused is Rachel Cañas:

“Cañas had been brutally beaten by three police officers in her hometown of San Vicente, El Salvador. In police reports, court testimony and interviews with asylum officers and reporters, Cañas’s version of events is consistent. A sergeant with a grudge against Cañas spotted her in a restaurant and dragged her outside, where he and two other officers sprayed her with Mace and pistol-whipped her until her arm shattered, she said. Then they arrested her and told her to repeat their version of events.

“In his police report, the sergeant claimed Cañas was an “active member” of an MS-13 clique who had insulted the officers and rushed at them with a knife.

“It’s an absurd accusation, made by the police to justify why they beat me,” Cañas said.

“After surgery, more than 20 stitches and seven days in the hospital, Cañas reported the incident to prosecutors. The officers, not Cañas, were charged with assault, and she testified against them repeatedly.”

While Cañas has been released from custody, immigration officials still hold her nine-year-old autistic son, refusing to release him to his mother because, they say, she is connected to the MS-13 gang. They didn’t make the allegation before the judge who released Cañas on bond—he might have asked for evidence. They don’t have to show any evidence to keep her from regaining custody of her son.

Professor Mzenga Wanyama

The arbitrary and punitive actions of DHS target adults as well, including Augsburg Professor  Mzenga Wanyama, still in limbo after 27 years in the United States and 13 years teaching at Augsburg University in Minnesota. Years of relative safety afforded by prosecutorial discretion ended in March, with an order to depart generating widespread support from the community, university, and elected officials. Last month, Wanyama got another temporary stay of deportation, this time issued by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

“Under previous administrations, ICE didn’t consider him a priority for deportation. Suddenly, he was….

“Wanyama says his story highlights systemic issues faced by many other immigrants who haven’t gotten the attention and the help he’s received.

“There is a lot of suffering going on,” he said. “When people are targeted by a body that is as powerful as ICE that apparently is not really accountable to anyone except themselves. That’s a problem.”

Immigrants Making Small Towns Great Again

Two recent editorials from Iowa and Kansas point out the contributions that refugees and other immigrants make to small towns and rural areas across the country.

From Iowa:

“From Brooklyn to Postville, and in countless other communities that have been dismissed as ghost towns, the ones thriving have approached the challenges and difficulties of integrating newcomers with a mindset of opportunity, not with fear.

“When even the shattered, grieving father of a victim of an immigrant’s crime can sing the praises of the majority of his newly arrived neighbors, we need to stop and ask ourselves whether, as a country, we’re willing to take on the promise that immigrants represent.”

From Nebraska:

“With the state’s record-low unemployment and well-documented labor shortage exacerbated by federal policies, refugees have become a critical part of Nebraska’s workforce….

“The Journal Star reported earlier this week in a series examining the impact of refugees in this city that the number has fallen from a few hundred annually to a few dozen thus far in 2018. In a state where nonnative people are essentially driving population growth by themselves, this drastic shift will have ramifications felt for decades.

“Even in the short term, too, this state is worse off for their absence. Culturally and economically, refugees have made the Good Life even better.”



On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security proposed new regulations that would allow the government to detain migrant children indefinitely. …

“The proposals will be open to public comment for the next 60 days before they can be finalized. Readers who wish to register their concern can do so on the Federal Register’s website.

“After that period, the issue is almost certainly headed to court. Observers say the same judge who has ruled against past attempts to undermine Flores is likely to thwart this attempt as well.”

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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1 Response to What This Country Needs: More Jail Beds for Immigrant Kids

  1. Pingback: By the Numbers: Immigrants in America | Immigration news

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