The Trump administration’s family-separation policy has brought the brutality of our immigration system into sharp relief in past weeks: Listening to the sob-choked cries of children begging for their parents has convinced many Americans that the humanitarian crisis on our southern border has been created and recently exacerbated by policy, and can, therefore, also be ended by policy. It’s an overdue awakening.
Trump’s openly anti-immigrant animosity—neatly captured in a recent tweet in favor of skirting due process and enacting summary deportations (“we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came,” Trump thumbed)—is, according to a new report from Freedom for Immigrants, being echoed in immigration detention centers across the country. For years, and across administrations both Republican and Democrat, immigrant rights groups have been documenting abuses at the border and in ICE detention facilities. But the system has been given a shot in the arm by Trump, Kris Kobach, Stephen Miller, and Jeff Sessions, to name a few anti-immigrant crusaders enabling and even directly encouraging abuse.
Unfortunately, Trump’s executive order last week to end family separation will do little to ease the state violence enacted upon migrants and their children. The order’s requirement to keep families together while in immigration custody runs up against a number of problems, not least of which is the Flores agreement, a court decree that prevents the federal government from keeping children in detention. For now, there seems to be no clear guidelines coming from Washington, and the confusion may be consigning children and their parents to prolonged, possibly indefinite detention. So what is it like inside those detention centers?
We know from reports from inside the centers that migrants will first pass days caged in freezing cold hieleras, or “coolers”—the Border Patrol’s overcrowded temporary holding facilities—where the lights blaze 24/7 and migrants are forced to sleep on the floor. They’ll receive substandard and even deadly medical care, and will have the constant threat of deportation hanging over them as they are thrust into an increasingly antagonistic and restrictive immigration-court system. They could spend months or even years behind bars, many without ever having committed or even having being charged with a crime. And, as detailed in a new report from immigrant advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants, the guards and detention center officials sometimes treat them inhumanely, hurling racist, Islamophobic, and homophobic nastiness at them. The report, “Persecuted in Immigration Detention: A National Report on Abuse Motivated by Hate,,” details the deeply unsettling, rampant hate spewed by ICE and ICE-contracted guards in immigration detention centers, documenting at least 800 complaints of abuse.