New President, Same Cages.

The Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies drew harsh and justified criticism from Democrats all throughout his presidency. Child detention — putting “kids in cages” — was a major focal point of this criticism, with prominent Democratic politicians including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris highlighting the particular cruelty of rounding up children fleeing violence and poverty and locking them away in prison cells.

Then earlier this week, the Biden administration reopened a Trump-era detention facility for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, TX.

Images of the facility show that the detainees (children) will be held in converted shipping containers with barred windows. The administration also announced plans to reopen the Homestead, FL. child detention center, which New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called a “prison camp” after a 2019 visit.

Under federal law, unaccompanied migrant children must be held in a non-secure facility, meaning one that they are permitted to leave. The facility must also be licensed and meet relevant legal standards. Neither of the detention centers being reopened satisfy these requirements.

In emergency situations, the government is permitted to hold children in temporary facilities for up to 20 days before transferring them to a more appropriate one. The Department of Health and Human Services has said that it intends to keep kids in the reopened detention centers for 30 days at a time.

This means that, even under the most generous interpretation and assuming that no one is held for longer than planned, the Biden administration fully intends to detain these children in a way that violates the laws created to protect them.

The administration’s justification for this is that their child prison camps are necessary to deal with the influx of kids crossing the border unaccompanied. They have to be held somewhere, and these facilities are just the best they’ve got.

This framing sidesteps the question of just why so many more unaccompanied children than usual are being detained. It is a manufactured problem stemming from the Trump-era policy of turning away families seeking asylum.

Under the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” refugees who arrived at the border were forced to remain in Mexico while their cases were being processed. Unaccompanied minors can’t legally be sent back, so some parents have made the heartbreaking decision to have their children cross the border alone rather than staying with them in makeshift camps.

An NPR reporter visited one of these camps and described the conditions: “When it rains, the tents leak. When a cold front blows in, the migrants shiver. The camp is filthy. People are sick. The port-a-johns are overflowing. And there are thugs and kidnappers who hang around the edges of the encampment, looking for victims.”

The MPP was created through executive action, and Biden could admit these asylum-seekers at any time. Every day, he chooses not to. While refugee children are not being ripped from their parents arms, they are being separated from their families as a direct result of U.S. policy.

The immigrant detention system has a long history of cruelty, abuse, and neglect — including the very camps now being reopened. This history extends back past Trump’s tenure and into the Obama administration, where Biden served as Vice President. Maybe as President Biden will treat these kids with more dignity than Trump did. That should not be the standard. Democrats should be holding the President accountable for this, not rushing to swallow his excuses.

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