The large number of children and families who came to the United States over the summer months seeking refuge is no longer news. After filling the front pages, taking over the blogosphere, and occupying the minds of what seemed to be every politician in the country, much of that attention has shifted to other matters. Many migrants, however, remain in a legal limbo. They are stuck in the middle-of-nowhere unsure of what the future holds; their home for now a handful of immigration detention centers in New México, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
Family immigration detention was almost eradicated in the United States after advocates pushed on the streets and in courtrooms to close the notorious Hutto detention center in central Texas. My colleague at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Lisa Graybill played an instrumental role in making that happen. In response to the political fervor that erupted this summer as images of migrant children and families crossed the Río Grande River, the Obama Administration rapidly expanded the nation’s family detention capacity. From roughly 85 beds at a facility in Berks, Pennsylvania, the Department of Homeland Security has boosted its family detention capacity by 17 times to about 1,500 beds. This growth will itself be overshadowed soon when a 2,400-bed facility currently under construction opens in Dilley, Texas, perhaps as early as December.
In the last month I’ve been asked to talk about what’s going on in crimmigration law and have been unable to talk about anything other than the United States government’s decision to detain children and families. To that end, I put together a PowerPoint presentation that provides an overview of how children and families are being held inside immigration detention centers. In the event that others are engaging in similar conversations, I’ve posted the slides here.
Aside from the fact that we are detaining people who pose no discernible threat to public safety and are not likely to fail to appear for immigration court hearings (see here and here), I’ve tried to drive home two points during these presentations. One is that the border has never been more militarized than it is today. There were roughly 21,391 Border Patrol agents on duty at last count—a historically outsized number—with 18,611 of them stationed along the border with México.
Second, even though it’s true that many more unaccompanied children have been apprehended over the last year than in the recent past, the number of people of all ages apprehended crossing into the United States without authorization is remarkably low.
In contrast to fiscal year 2005, for example, when the Border Patrol apprehended about 1.2 million people, the agency caught just more than 400,000 during the 2013 fiscal year.
These trends make illustrate the inanity of throwing sending more security personnel to the borderlands, as Texas Governor Rick Perry did when he deployed 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to South Texas. That cost-benefit analysis aside, detaining children and families remains indefensible. Infants and toddlers simply never deserve to be locked up, and no one deserves to be locked up simply in the far-fetched hope that doing so will keep others from coming to the United States.
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