While the Biden administration continues to turn away the majority of migrants seeking refuge at the border, migrant children without their parents are let into the United States, only to be thrown in detention centers while their cases are being are being processed. Already traumatized from perilous and exhausting journeys, these migrant children, some as young as six, have been placed in temporary emergency shelters across the border states, with a significant number of children being held in Texas. Two shelters, which were deemed unhealthy and unsafe for children and closed during the Trump era, were recently reopened despite still being both filthy and overcrowded, due to Covid-19 restrictions around how many people can be held within a single facility. Recent reports of border holding facilities show that children are being held in packed conditions, sleeping on the floor and unable to shower for days on end. This is even more outrageous considering the ongoing pandemic and the fact that overcrowding and unsanitary conditions lead to the spread of the coronavirus.
In February alone, 9,000 unaccompanied children and teens were apprehended by U.S. authorities and placed into holding facilities. Children who arrive at the border are initially in the custody of Border Patrol. It is illegal for children to remain in Border Patrol facilities for more than 72 hours; however, this law is regularly flouted. After being released from Border Patrol, children are placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, whose job it is to reunite children with their relatives in the United States as soon as possible. The majority of children–about 80%–who cross the border come with information about a relative who can care for them immediately. Instead of reuniting them with their families, however, the Office of Refugee Resettlement is detaining these unaccompanied children in overcrowded and unsafe shelters for extended periods of time, making them vulnerable to compounding trauma and neglect.
The Dallas Convention Center in Texas is the latest temporary shelter to be co-opted by the Biden administration. Over 3,000 boys ages 15-17 are expected to be housed there for the next 90 days, the current duration of the contract. While the convention center itself might be physically safer than some of the tent-city emergency facilities, it is still a traumatic option for a detained child. The choice of the convention center itself is lucrative for Spectra, its management group, as they have hosted few, if any, events in the past year due to the pandemic. Spectra refused to give a public statement about the specific terms of the federal contract. The government continues to help corporations profit off of the imprisonment of children, contributing to the immigration industry, one that remains incredibly lucrative for capitalists.
Despite making promises around making things better for migrants, Biden’s policies so far have mirrored bothTrump’s and Obama’s, deporting and detaining vulnerable migrants for extended periods of time and without consideration of the children’s needs. These detention centers are unacceptable and need to be shut down immediately — migrant children need to be reunited with their families now, and the borders must be opened to allow all people who come to the United States to have safe passage and guaranteed protections as soon as they arrive.