News & Politics

1,600 Immigrants Are Headed to Federal Prisons Because Trump Administration Detainments Are So High

The number of migrant children locked up by the federal government has also surged by more than 20 percent.

Photo Credit: PBS NewsHour

The Trump administration is arresting so many undocumented immigrants that it is preparing to send as many as 1,600 people—including some asylum-seekers who have been separated from their kids at the U.S./Mexico border due to new policy—to five federal prisons in California, Oregon, Texas, Washington: 

Under former President Barack Obama, many immigrants without serious criminal records were allowed to await their court dates while living in the United States. Others were housed in immigration detention facilities or local jails. ICE has used federal prisons in the past but not on this scale, sources said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told Reuters that the agency is “working to meet the demand for additional immigration detention space,” but it’s the Trump administration’s actions that are overburdening the system in the first place. The number of migrant children locked up by the federal government has surged by more than 20 percent and left designated detention facilities at near-capacity:

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Those shelters are at 95 percent capacity, an HHS official said Tuesday, and the agency is preparing to add potentially thousands of new bed spaces in the coming weeks. 

“This sudden mass transfer,” said Kevin Landy, a former ICE official under the Obama administration, “could result in serious problems … a large percent of ICE detainees have no criminal record and are more vulnerable in a prison setting—security staff and administrators at BOP facilities have spent their careers dealing with hardened criminals serving long sentences for serious felonies, and the procedures and staff training reflect that.”

ICE claims that the transfers are “intended to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities,” but rather than allowing vulnerable families to stay together in alternatives to detention—as was sometimes, but not always, done in the past—the administration wants to lock them up. According to Oregon’s Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, “as many as 120 asylum seekers” have been transferred to federal detention in the state:

The organization said that on Wednesday it spoke with two of the women, who arrived at the southern border with their young daughters in mid-May seeking asylum. Both were separated from their children shortly after they were apprehended by Border Patrol. Instead of being returned to their children after being sentenced to time served for the misdemeanor of unlawful entry, they were transferred to Washington state while they seek asylum, the organization said.

Meanwhile, detention facilities run by the Health and Human Service’s (HSS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for separated children languishing without their parents are at 95 percent capacity. Conditions inside them aren’t fully known to the public, either—or even to federal officials. When a U.S. senator tried to tour one detention center in Texas, he was blocked from going inside and staff called the cops on him. 

Again, the federal government doesn’t have to imprison vulnerable families who, under U.S. law, have legally petitioned for asylum at U.S. ports of entry. It doesn’t have to imprison moms and dads with no criminal record. Instead, the administration has made the decision to tear families apart, kidnapping their children into the immigration detention system while parents are shipped hundreds of miles away. This is intentional, this is brutality, this is terrorism against families.

“Federal detention is no place for anyone seeking asylum,” saidRep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state. “This is a stunning new low and it illustrates how out-of-control and cruel this administration is—how little it cares for human rights. They are overloading the immigration detention system by separating families and transferring asylum-seekers—people looking for relief from violence and persecution—into our federal prison system.”