by Elizabeth Gibbons
Following the massive outcry about the separation of children and parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Trump Administration is looking to expand family detention centers to accommodate whole families. The Justice Department, under Jeff Sessions, is concerned that constraints on Homeland Security will make it “more likely that families will attempt illegal border crossing.”
There are currently three family detention facilities—one in Pennsylvania and two in Texas. In Texas, the facilities are on a remote site and consist of cottages built around playgrounds and offers education services and access to lawyers. The facility is ringed by a 15 foot fence and is monitored by security cameras. “Tender age” shelters, currently holding more than 2,300 children under the age of 5, are operated by humanitarian organizations; family detention centers are operated by private prisons.
The child welfare system in New Mexico is in desperate need of an overhaul. As another abuse case—specifically child prostitution and how the case was mishandled by child welfare workers—makes the news, it is important to recognize that maltreatment and the poor handling of cases can be prevented. The New Mexico Department of Children, Youth, and Families is failing the most vulnerable, but the organization can become better. As the Santa Fe New Mexican reports, there are deep structural flaws in the department’s design, and data-driven, updated, cross-referenced prevention strategies are lacking. The department also has faced funding challenges, and changes proposed by legislators are not expected to be effective due to structural flaws and budget concerns. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families has already collaborated with committed people in the state and experts on child welfare—now they need to put those collaborations to good use.
Kansas’s Department for Children and Families inspected the detention centers and “tender age” shelters housing immigrant children and determined them to be safe and meeting the needs of the children—thus allowing the centers to remain open despite intense criticisms and concerns. Democratic legislators forced the inspection after accusing Republican Governor Jeff Colyer of not seeking information about the children forced into his state’s care. The “tender age” shelters—called The Villages, just outside Topeka—have a federal contract to house 50 unaccompanied immigrant children. Although the investigation concluded that the shelters were up to code and met state standards, it did not give any specific information or specify whether the unaccompanied immigrant minors had been separated from their parents at the border. Families that were separated under the zero-tolerance policy will not be grandfathered into the new Executive Order ending family separation, meaning the children will stay in Topeka until they are reunited through court proceedings.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.