Trump’s detention policy: Fiscally exorbitant as well as morally bankrupt

September 15, 2018 by Mary Sanchez
Migrants in McAllen, Texas, wait to be transported to a detention center.

President Trump’s callous disregard for his fellow citizens is well known to people of a certain hue, shall we say.

It was in full display this week in his insistence that only a few dozen Puerto Ricans died as a result of Hurricane Maria, whereas nearly 3,000 who actually did. He made this claim while congratulating himself on the federal response to the catastrophe.

That was bad enough.

As people in North and South Carolina boarded up, evacuated and prepared for the worst from Hurricane Florence, they might have assumed — indeed, counted on — the federal government’s preparedness to save the day when the flooding and winds hit.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s routine operating expenses were shorted nearly $10 million in recent months. The Department of Homeland Security diverted the money for a more favored project: zero-tolerance detention of the migrants arriving at the southern border. DHS needed extra cash to pay for increased detention space, as it also has moved to eliminate legal barriers to holding Central American families seeking asylum, intent on keeping them locked up possibly for years. In total, DHS transferred $169 million from other agencies to Immigration and Customs Enforcement this year for the detention and removal of migrants, according to NBC.

This is how the immoral, dysfunctional plot to warehouse human beings is becoming normalized. Taxpayers will pay the bills. And some may later wonder why their family’s needs aren’t being met — say, after their homes and livelihoods are swept away by a natural disaster.

The loss of the FEMA funding is not the worst consequence of Trump’s immigration policy. The true evil is what detention does to some migrants — especially children — in terms of psychological trauma that will stay with them for life.

You may not care about that. Many Americans don’t. But there’s another angle to consider: money.

Each immigrant is a meal ticket for the private incarceration industry. The New York Times has reported the number of children being held in federal custody is now an astounding 12,800, up from 2,400 in May 2017.

The costs involved are staggering. Consider a tent city for children in Tornillo, Texas. It was initially to be temporary housing for 400. Then it expanded to 1,200, and now there are calls to place 3,800 youths there. According to the Times, costs are reportedly as high as $750 a day per child. That’s nearly a million bucks a day (currently) just to get tough on a bunch of defenseless kids.

Who benefits? Why, private contractors, of course. Nonprofits and for-profits alike are increasingly dependent on the government for their operating costs. Some, like the Southwest Key Program, are known for good work, educating and providing healthcare, food and counseling. They are trying to help. But they are also becoming part of an increasingly entrenched system costing millions.

This is unconscionable.

The reason for the camp expansions isn’t so much that more people are arriving –although the numbers do swing up in the cooler month of September. Rather, it’s that the migrants already nabbed and placed into detention are being held longer.

The government is finding it difficult to convince relatives in the U.S. to accept the kids who arrive without parents, due to new procedures. All adults in a home where a child might be placed must be fingerprinted. Their identification is then available to immigration officials. Family members worry what that might mean for their guests to become, or to remain legal.

Chief Border Agent Manuel Padilla Jr. often uses social media to relay the impact on his over-worked staff. Of the nearly 700 people arrested on September 11, Padilla reported that one was found to be a convicted sex offender and one a member of the 18th Street gang.

So two people with criminal backgrounds were found among nearly 700 detained — at who knows what cost to taxpayers. That’s ridiculous. Yet zero-tolerance means anyone who possibly can be prosecuted must be, triggering the need for more detention space. It doesn’t matter if they are mothers fleeing the violent gangs of their home countries, with their children in tow.

We need to end the demagoguery about immigration and get real about who is coming to the border and why. And then we need to put a system of laws and policies in place that coincides with our economic needs as a nation and our moral duty to treat people fairly. And for God’s sake, let’s stop allowing detained migrants to be somebody’s profit center.



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