U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is expected to transfer more than 1,600 detained immigrants, including parents who have been separated from their children, to federal prisons.
Yesterday (June 8), Reuters reported that detainees—many of whom are Central Americans fleeing from gang and sexual violence—will be held in five federal prisons as they await immigration court hearings.
Acccording to The Associated Press reports, ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell announced in an emailed statement that the agency would acquire 1,600 beds in the Bureau of Prisons facilities. The agency is expected to move 1,000 people into a medium-security federal prison in Victorville, California; 209 to SeaTac, Washington; 230 to La Tuna, Texas; 230 to Sheridan, Oregon; and 102 to Phoenix. Union leaders at prisons in California, Texas and Washington told Reuters that they had little time to prepare for the mass influx of immigrants into their facilties.
Under the Obama administration, some immigrants without serious criminal records were allowed to await their court hearings while living freely in the United States. Others were held in detention facilities and local jails. ICE previously held some immigrants in federal prisons, but not in such high numbers, Reuters reports.
Last month, the Trump administration announced its plans to prosecute and jail immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, as part of a "zero tolerance" strategy that aims to deter immigrants from entering the country. At a press conference last month in San Diego, Department of Justice Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled the hardline approach that includes separating immigrant parents from their children.
On Thursday (June 7), the Department of Justice released a report saying that 57,820 "known or suspected aliens" are currently being held in their custody. Sessions reiterated the administration’s intensified criminalization of immigrants of undocumented status:
It is outrageous that tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year because of the drugs and violence brought over our borders illegally and that taxpayers have been forced, year after year, to pay millions of dollars to incarcerate tens of thousands of illegal aliens. That is another reason why the Department of Justice under President Trump’s leadership has instituted a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border.
The dramatic spike in immigrant arrests has also led to an upswing in immigrant youth being housed in shelters under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The number of migrant children in government custody without their parents has risen 21 percent since April, and officials plan to begin housing them in military bases, according to The Washington Post.
Many advocates have strongly opposed what they call "inhumane" treatment of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s immigration policy. Earlier this week, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights called on the U.S. government to end its practice of separating parents and children seeking asylum, as Colorlines reported.