Biden is locking up migrant children. Will the world still care with Trump gone?

The Biden Administration re-opened a Trump-era detention site for migrant children. Rather than seeking out new and better solutions–alternatives that depend on carceral solutions–the administration instead is trying to sell us an image of a kinder, gentler imprisonment. I wrote this for The Guardian.

This week, the Biden administration did the unthinkable. It reopened a Trump-era detention site for migrant children. The detention center, a reconverted camp for oil field workers in Carrizo Springs, Texas, is expected to hold 700 children between the ages of 13 and 17, and dozens of kids have already arrived there.

This is an awful development, reminding me of some of the worst abuses of the Trump years. And while we obviously don’t know how this ominous development will play out in the long run, what we do know is this: unaccompanied migrant children deserve compassion, not detention. But rather than seeking out new and better solutions, the Biden administration is instead trying to sell us an image of a kinder, gentler imprisonment.

How else are we to understand the words of Mark Weber, spokesperson for Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency that oversees the welfare of unaccompanied migrant children? Weber told the Washington Post that “the Biden administration is moving away from the ‘law-enforcement focused’ approach of the Trump administration to one in which child welfare is more centric”. That may play well as a soundbite, but how welfare-centric is it to place children in jail in the first place? And if you don’t think it’s a jail, you should know that the “unaccompanied teens sent to the Carrizo Springs shelter will not be allowed to leave the facility”, as reported by the news website

It gets worse. The camp’s operation will be “based on a federal emergency management system”, where “trailers are labeled with names such as Alpha, Charlie and Echo”, names which are commonly used in military detention practices. (Camp Echo, for example, is a notorious site in Guantánamo Bay.) And while staff members will thankfully not be sporting military gear, the government spokesman makes a point to tell us that they will “wear matching black-and-white T-shirts displaying their roles: disaster case manager, incident support, emergency management” and that “the most colorful trailer is at the entryway, where flowers, butterflies and handmade posters still hang on its walls from Carrizo’s first opening in 2019”.

Give me a break. The problem with this sort of language is that it hides the brute reality of detention and covers it up with the rosy rhetoric of summer camp. The Post story describes the center as a 66-acre site where “groups of beige trailers encircle a giant white dining tent, a soccer field and a basketball court. There is a bright blue hospital tent with white bunk beds inside. A legal services trailer has the Spanish word ‘Bienvenidos,’ or welcome, on a banner on its roof. There are trailers for classrooms, a barber shop, a hair salon.” Who, I wonder, is really comforted by a “welcome banner” on a roof, the jailers or the jailed?

Think I’m being ungenerous? That the Biden administration is merely trying to articulate to the public how its detention scheme will be more salubrious than Trump’s? Well, if that’s the case, then health concerns, especially during a pandemic, would be paramount. We’ve been told by the government that these children will arrive at Carrizo Springs after a period of quarantine and will all be tested for Covid before entry. Yet, when asked HHS whether everyone entering the facility, and not just these teens, will be tested for the virus, they did not receive a direct answer…

Read the rest here.

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