The Department of Homeland Security’s ‘Baby Jails’

In the wake of last summer’s migrant crisis, DHS is still keeping families in detention centers. What could go wrong?

News Story (NATIONAL)

Michelle Chen
Nation, The
October 23, 2015

Tags: Child Care, Children & Juvenile, Immigration Process

Organizations mentioned/involved: RAICES (Texas)


Last summer, the White House ran into a sticky problem when trying to detain refugee families who had crossed the border to flee mass violence. A court ruling had deemed the federal immigrant-detention system unsuitable for children because they could not receive decent care when caged in the compounds. While court challenges have led the government to grudgingly free some families, the Department of Homeland Security has created a novel workaround for this conundrum for others, by turning detention centers into childcare centers.

Rights advocates are not sold. For years they’ve decried family detention facilities as inhumane, unnecessarily restrictive, even unconstitutional—definitely no place for a child.

Amy Fischer, policy director for the civil legal aid organization Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services says, “It’s a farce to think that essentially a baby jail could be licensed [to jail children] by the Department that’s [supposed] to ensure safe and healthy childcare services…. There’s no way to license a jail for children.”

Judge Dolly Gee of the Los Angeles district court agrees. In a series of decisions she has ruled the Obama administration could not continue to detain families. The conditions at the three designated family facilities—two large centers in Texas, Dilley and Karnes, and a small facility in Pennsylvania—were inherently harmful to children, she stated, and exposed them to systematic maltreatment and inadequate social services. She ordered that children be placed with family members in communities, or in “licensed, non-secure child care facilities.”