Childcare services are in short supply across the country, but there’s one place where the government is actually rushing to offer free daycare for a select group of families: inside immigration detention centers.
Last summer, the White House ran into a sticky problem when trying to detain refugee families who had crossed the border to flee mass violence. A court ruling had deemed the federal immigrant-detention system unsuitable for children because they could not receive decent care when caged in the compounds. While court challenges have led the government to grudgingly free some families, the Department of Homeland Security has created a novel workaround for this conundrum for others, by turning detention centers into childcare centers.
Amy Fischer, policy director for the civil legal aid organization Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services says, “It’s a farce to think that essentially a baby jail could be licensed [to jail children] by the Department that’s [supposed] to ensure safe and healthy childcare services…. There’s no way to license a jail for children.”
Judge Dolly Gee of the Los Angeles district court agrees. In a series of decisions she has ruled the Obama administration could not continue to detain families. The conditions at the three designated family facilities—two large centers in Texas, Dilley and Karnes, and a small facility in Pennsylvania (which now faces delicensing) —were inherently harmful to children, she stated, and exposed them to systematic maltreatment and inadequate social services. She ordered that children be placed with family members in communities, or in “licensed, non-secure child care facilities.”