Detention Centers for Immigrant Families and Children – The Arkansas Welcome Mat

Tent City in Texas where children and being held.

Little Rock       Trump’s executive order claimed to end the family separation policy, but it doesn’t end the crisis or solve the problems.  Officials from the Department of Human Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement reportedly were scurrying around the country trying to find federal facilities that could house up to 20,000 unaccompanied children and an untold number of others.  They were particularly enamored of military installations, viewing several locations in Texas and Arkansas.

One site they inspected was an abandoned US Department of Agriculture site in Kelso, Arkansas in the southeastern delta area of the state.  That site is only two miles from Rohwer, Arkansas, little known for anything much these days and hardly a postage stamp of a town, but infamous for having served as one of the notorious Japanese-American detention camps during World War II in one of the darker periods of American racial and ethnic history.   Even as tone deaf as the Trump administration has been about its mishandling of the migrant and refugee crisis at the border with Mexico, it is still hard for me to believe they would be clueless enough to allow the media a political field day that would come with setting up a 21st century version of the same horror so close to the ongoing stain of America’s own experience in running concentration camps.

Mayor DeBlasio of New York City was horrified visiting a center in his city that held over 200 children that had been separated from their families at the border and was protesting loudly his inability to get answers from federal authorities on the status and future of these children.  The Mayor of Houston told the federal government he did not want them to construct a planned detention center in his city.  Governor Cuomo of New York said his state didn’t want to have anything to do with children and family detention centers.  In the alternate reality of Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson welcomed the feds interest in his state and made suggestions, including about the feasibility of the Little Rock Air Force Base as a detention facility.  There is controversy in Arkansas over monuments celebrating the ten commandments on the state capitol grounds, but any religious concern by conservative Arkansas politicians for family values evaporates when they start reading the stories about billions of dollars of contracts and jobs galore to run these children prisons.  I think there are a good many passages in the bible about the dangers of serving mammon, which is the greedy pursuit of wealth, as opposed to God, but I’ll leave that argument to others.

While the Trump administration is real estate shopping for prison facilities, their lawyers are begging the federal judge to allow them to extend the time they are able to hold children past twenty days and potentially hold their families indefinitely.  The judge has expressed previous reservations about the handling of immigrants and is the daughter of immigrants herself.  Trump’s pleading faces an uphill battle.

I listened this morning to the director of Catholic Charities in Fort Worth, Texas that have received about twenty of these children between five and twelve years old from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.  Some of the young children have no idea what a phone number for their families might be.  Others can hardly speak, complicating resettlement.  They continue with their policy of trying to find family members to take the children and try to connect them to their families, while standing in solidarity with their bishop and his condemnation of the Trump program as an insult to the “right to life” and its dignity.

A piece of paper won’t solve this crisis, nor will hard lines and hard hearts.

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Families versus Workers, Morality versus Self-Interest

New Orleans     When Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, and one of the most prominent evangelists in the country and someone with in-and-out privileges at the White House says the Trump family-separation anti-immigrant policy is “immoral,” you know there’s something truly evil in this mess.  Trump has even expressed reservations about family separation as a policy in the past, but the mad dog anti-immigrants of the administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and adviser Stephen Miller, have somehow managed, in the words of conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, to make this “the wickedest thing done by this administration so far.”  There’s no one in America who wants to look at that long list, so you know this ranks as the worst of the worst.

So, we now have 2000 children in what some very sober-minded commentators are calling Nazi-like concentration camps that are converted Walmart supercenters along the border.  The Trumpsters are lying about this being a policy forced on them, but the fig leaf covering this atrocity is the notion that the nuclear option of family separation will act as a deterrent.   We have to ask whether families going through the trauma of fleeing their home countries in fear for their own lives and those of their children can really effectively be deterred under any circumstances.  Trump’s draconian policies in fact might deter some families, but these families are going to go somewhere, and some or many will still rate the odds and come here.  We can look around the world or at our own national experience.  We cannot stop migration.  We can potentially control migration, but the right is wrong to believe immigration can be banned, no matter how evil our policies might become.

Douthat argues that a least-worse policy would be to ramp up E-verify, the program that scrutinizes employers’ workforce in order to root out and deport any undocumented workers.  The irony here is so rich.  The paradox is so painful.  This isn’t going to happen, because in a period of less than 4% unemployment, employers, especially in the service industries are crying for more workers.  Business wants immigrant workers and will continue to demand them.  Neoliberalism loves a mobile and transient workforce but hates the families they leave behind and has no plan or place for the ones that workers bring along.

Reading about the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, I realized I had never read his classic, Kitchen Confidential.  I have now done so, and it’s a wonderful read in addition to being chock full of insights.  Bourdain is being mourned in some quarters as an unabashed advocate for immigrants and their rights, which is all true, but it is also true because he saw his Latin American kitchen staff as his hardest, most faithful, and easiest to manage workers.  The number two lesson he offered at the end of the book was “learn Spanish.”  Bourdain’s commitment, it’s fair to say, was as much business as personal.

Business doesn’t want E-verify.  They want cheaper, harder working, even precarious employees. They also don’t want anything to do with their families.  The United States will be more willing to endure human rights complaints from the United Nation and around the world for the inhumane conditions of our family-separation child-incarceration policies than we will be willing to create problems for businesses.  Case closed, but what a tragedy.

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