Abigail Sanchez
Opinions Editor 

Angélica Escobar
Asst. Opinions Editor

 

Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual abuse and harassment. Please read with caution.

 

President Joe Biden, are you okay? You’ve been having trouble keeping your campaign promises lately.

Last week, President Biden did one thing he promised not to do during his 2020 campaign: reopening former President Donald Trump’s migrant camps that closed down after a month of use in the summer of 2019. The migrant children’s camp is set to hold 700 children between the ages of 13 and 17, and is placed in a reconverted camp that was used for oil field workers in Carrizo Springs, Texas. This is horrendous, as President Biden had promised in the first 100 days of his presidency that he would not deport any migrants. When trying to implement change in the U.S., this is a huge step backwards.

During President Biden’s 2020 campaign, he promised to undo everything the Trump era had done in terms of immigration policies. The Biden administration will begin by working to process about 25,000 migrants with active claims in the program, but this requires migrants to register online, be tested for the coronavirus in Mexico, and then make the time to come to the U.S. on a specific day. Moreover, President Biden created an executive order called “public charge” that would review a Trump-era rule that made it harder for poorer immigrants to get U.S. residency.

In 2019, former President Donald Trump launched the MPP in order to crack down on immigration regarding asylum seekers. President Biden has issued three executive orders that deal with asylum-seeking in the U.S.-Mexico border, legal immigration, and reunifying families. These executive orders mandated a review of the Migrant Protection Protocols, a horrifying program that pushed 65,000 asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for U.S. court hearings. President Biden has not added anyone to MPP, and plans to end it. This effort is complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and concerns over illegal immigration.

President Biden has also created a task force to reunite migrant families who were separated in the U.S.-Mexico border by Trump’s 2018 ‘zero tolerance’ border strategy. This task force will be led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. He is also planning an immigration reform bill that would provide an eight-year pathway to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and DREAMers. This would provide protection for people under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program started by former President Barack Obama.

During his first day in office, President Biden canceled Trump’s controversial travel ban blocking travelers from 13, mostly Muslim-majority and African, countries. He also canceled construction of the border wall and repealed a 2017 Trump executive order that intensified U.S. immigration enforcement within the country. This isn’t enough, though, as President Biden has reopened some of the Trump-era’s migrant camps that have been known to abuse children.

According to the Washington Post, the facility has trailers for classrooms, a basketball court, soccer field, its own ambulances and firetrucks, and its own water supply. A sign outside of the facility also claims that the children will be provided with three meals a day, onsite access to medical care, and mental health services. At first glance, one might think there is nothing wrong with this facility, as it provides the basic needs for the youth being held. However, what may seem like Heaven can actually be Hell.

The migration camp in Carrizo Springs opened during the Trump administration (and closed a month later due to public pressure and protests). Why is it so significant that this is a Trump-era migrant facility? The Trump administration was unfairly harsh in their immigration policy, making it difficult for refugees to seek asylum in the U.S., and separating families at the border. When this facility closed down in 2019, it was a success for immigration advocates, which is why it is frustrating and confusing for President Biden to re-open this facility — another symbol of our broken immigration system.

In 2019, the federal government received more than 4,500 complaints in four years about the sexual abuse of immigrant children at government-funded detention facilities. Children who had been either separated from their families, or entered the U.S. alone, have described allegations of adult staffers, especially ICE agents, at these camps regarding harassment and assault. This includes fondling and kissing minors, watching them as they showered, and raping them. They also included cases of suspected abuse of children by other minors.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, a part of the Health and Human Services Department, is supposed to be caring for these unaccompanied immigrant children. However, there was a total of 4,556 allegations of sexual abuse or sexual harassment, 1,303 of which were referred to the Justice Department only because they were deemed the most serious. The records do not detail the outcome of every complaint, only that the complaints were showing a lack of evidence and couldn’t be prosecuted.

Moreover, most of these complaints rose once Trump enacted the separation policy of children and their parents. Between March 2018 and July 2018, the agency received 859 complaints — the largest number of reports during any five-month span in the previous four years. This is what I fear once these children go to the migrant camps; who will look after them in order to prevent any of this happening again? This is horrible. These detention centers are overseen by ICE, the same people in charge of these camps when children were being harassed and assaulted. These children need to be protected, and putting them in camps will not do that. 

There are guidelines imposed on immigration authorities that they are mandated to follow in situations of children crossing the border, whether they are accompanied by family or not. The Flores Settlement Agreement outlines these requirements, which includes placing children in the “least restrictive setting appropriate to their age and any special needs,” as well as setting standards for the care and treatment of the children. Due to overcrowding, and a pandemic still happening, it is understandable why President Biden would want to relocate some of the children, but putting them in a Trump-era migrant facility should be the very last option.

If President Biden wanted to fix the immigration system, he would give more resources at the border and come up with ways to put these children in a more suitable environment. Yes, the facilities have the basic amenities for the kids, but how are the people to know whether those kids are actually receiving basic necessities? The fact that they are prohibited from leaving the camp does not exactly scream ‘least restrictive.’

Some, if not most, of the unaccompanied children that cross the border already have a sponsor (parent, relative, or guardian) on the other side waiting for them. While it is a smart idea to make sure the vetting process of these sponsors isn’t too lax, it seems the Department of Homeland Security is committed to detaining large numbers of children by making the vetting process more difficult than it has to be. They constantly question whether the sponsor is able to care for a child and question the validity of familial relationships, as well as further restricting the process to make it harder for the child to be taken in by their guardian.

DHS also tends to use the “small, but severe risk” that the children could be victims of human trafficking (though it is highly doubtful, if they even care about that) to detain them for longer amounts of time. As stated before, President Biden should send resources to the border, like social workers and/or child welfare experts to help facilitate the vetting process so less children are detained in detention centers and migrant camps.

Overall, these camps should be a last resort for President Biden, even if the circumstances are not at their best right now. This is a major step back for the Biden Administration, as they promised that this would not happen again, and that they would fix everything the Trump administration had ruined. The Biden administration should not be reviving old systems, but instead looking for new solutions. They need to start addressing issues that are a disease in the immigration system, as these are very flawed. If they actually fixed the issues within the system instead of throwing kids into these camps, things would look more hopeful.

There’s no question that, with rising numbers of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border during COVID-19, the Biden administration has a difficult road ahead. However, expanding a long discredited system that detains children cannot be the answer, no matter how good the government wants to make it sound.

 

Featured Image: Courtesy of Mike Blake / Reuters

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In collaboration by Quaker Campus staff members.

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