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Thursday, February 25, 2021

‘It’s a huge step backward’: Biden admin reopens Trump-era prison camp for migrant kids

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The Post reports that the Biden administration’s reasoning for resurrecting the Carrizo Springs prison camp is that the novel coronavirus pandemic has limited space at facilities under the purview of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a Health and Human Services (HHS) agency. HHS spokesperson Mark Weber told the Post that there are currently 7,000 children in the agency’s custody. 

What the report doesn’t make clear is what kind of efforts by the Biden administration have been making to ensure those 7,000 children currently in facilities are being placed with sponsors as safely and quickly as possible. Many of these sponsors are frequently relatives already here. Safely getting those kids to homes and emptying current facilities should be the priority, not reopening a detention camp, and especially one not even subject to licensing standards: “[t]he majority of child migrant facilities are subject to state licensing requirements; temporary influx centers like Carrizo are not,” the report continued.

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Administration officials in the report point to what they say are improved conditions in this camp, from a barber shop to a hair salon to its own ambulances. “The operation is based on a federal emergency management system, Weber said.” Perhaps that’s reassuring—unless you’ve been on the receiving end of a failed federal emergency management system. “Carrizo is expected to close when the pandemic ends, he said,” the Post continued. But that’s not going to be in a month, or six months.

Children’s advocates also point to the remote locations of these camps, which have already been an intentional tactic by federal immigration officials. “This is done deliberately to shelve these children in places that are not only not readily accessible, but not accessible at all to anyone who cares about the quality of life of these kids, and whether or not they comply with the federal law,” Brandmiller continued to the Post. She “said the Biden administration should not be reviving old systems but looking for new solutions,” the report continued. 

There’s also intense worry about BCFS Health and Human Services, the private contractor set to operate Carrizo. BCFS operated the now-closed prison camp for migrant children in Tornillo, and had received a waiver from ORR’s then-director and anti-abortion zealot Scott Lloyd “to staff up without typically required child abuse and neglect checks,” PBS reports the HHS inspector general found. “BCFS has filed more than 30 reports on ‘significant incidents’ from Tornillo,” PBS continued.

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Tornillo stopped jailing children in January 2019, with many hoping that was that for that camp. But the previous administration kept it in place to instead jail adults. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) later found that the previous administration wasted nearly $70 million over a period of five months to jail fewer than 70 people there. The New York Times reported in 2019 that the former CEO of another “non-profit” that operates children’s detention facilities was paid $3.6 million during the charity’s most recent tax year.”

Just as I was about to hit publish on this post, I saw news that the Biden administration was planning to reopen another prison camp for kids, this time the notorious Homestead facility in Florida. During the 2020 presidential race, five Democratic candidates, including now-Vice President Kamala Harris, were denied entry into the facility. “By law, as a sitting Congressmember, I should be let in,” tweeted former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who was escorting them. “While I regularly request entry, I’m often denied. What are they hiding?”

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