The 'South Texas Family Residential Center' Is No Haven: It’s an Internment Camp.

Manzanar Detention Center Barracks where Japanese-Americans were held captive during World War II.

Originally posted on The Marshall Project.

The Dilley "South Texas Family Residential Center" tries to mask its nature with summer-camp-inspired euphemisms. When I visited Dilley last week along with other nonprofit representatives, we were told that the "residents" live in "neighborhoods" with names like "Yellow Frog" and "Red Parrot," which come with matching cartoon animal labels, and are watched over by "residential supervisors."

But Dilley is no summer camp.

Opened in December, it is a 50-acre secure detention facility estimated to cost $260 million per year and is owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's biggest for-profit prison company. Dilley's purpose is to detain families who fled violence in Central America, came to the United States seeking protection, and are waiting for the courts to decide their claims for immigration relief. Still under construction, the facility currently detains nearly 800 people and will have the ability to hold 2,400 by the time construction is finished. On completion, Dilley will be the single largest immigration detention facility in the nation, making Central American toddlers and mothers the new face of mass detention.

A high fence and security cameras encircle the camp, preventing the "residents" from escaping. Visitors go through metal detectors and entry procedures indistinguishable from those in a regular prison. Both the children and their mothers know the "residential supervisors" are guards — and are reminded of this fact by reporting to be counted three times a day and enduring frequent bed checks at night.

The temporary housing that members of Congress and the media saw in an earlier visit has been replaced with barracks-like structures that offer no privacy — a single room can hold as many as 12 people from unrelated families. Inside the treeless camp, the thin, red soil turns into throat-grinding dust when dry, and after rainstorms, it becomes sticky, shoe-destroying mud.

Each morning at 5:30 a.m., guards wake the children up with shouting and lights. For a place with so many young children, there are no toilets or showers inside the housing units — only communal restrooms accessible through hallways exposed to the elements. On one occasion, a young girl was forced to pee her pants during a detainee count because a guard refused to let her leave to use the toilet. It is not surprising that many children start each day with tears.

Immigration officials claim that this is a "safe and humane" way to detain children and their mothers. But what I saw at Dilley was disturbingly familiar to me.

During World War II, the U.S. government arrested my family because of their Japanese ancestry and locked them in prison camps that were euphemistically called "relocation centers." Historians generally agree that the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans was wholly unjustified — a product of hysteria and racist, unsubstantiated beliefs that they were potential spies and saboteurs. In a historical irony, Japanese Americans were actually drafted from the camps and fought in a racially segregated U.S. Army unit.

I have previously visited the sites of ManzanarTule Lake, and other World War II incarceration camps. More than anything else, Dilley feels like an updated version of these places. And modern officials' efforts to put a happy sheen on family detention echo the World War II propaganda films created to justify the incarceration of Japanese Americans, which caused lasting trauma for Japanese-American families.

By rendering parents as helpless as their children, the camps both undermined family structures and created a constant undercurrent of anxiety. In the claustrophobia and lack of privacy of the barracks, nobody could escape from the arguments and tears of other families. Even after they left the camps, children struggled to recover from early experiences of living as child prisoners.

Today, immigration authorities under President Obama's direction are needlessly inflicting the same trauma on families that arrived in the United States seeking protection.

Family detention facilities on the scale of Dilley exist only because the Obama administration made a dramatic about-face last year in its treatment of migrant families. Between 2010 and June 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement generally did not detain families seeking asylum protection in the U.S. However, starting in the summer of 2014, ICE responded to increased numbers of Central American migrants by taking the position that Central American families should either be denied release or released only if they could post enormously high bonds.

These policies apply even to families that have passed the first hurdle for asylum protection: showing a credible fear of persecution in their home countries. The result of the government's policies has been a massive construction spree of family detention facilities. Though ICE maintained fewer than 100 family detention beds in May 2014, it is expected to have a total of 3,700 family detention beds nationwide by this summer.

The day after I visited Dilley, ICE announced that it would take steps to "enhance" conditions of confinement inside its family detention facilities because "the well-being of detained families, particularly of children, is of paramount importance to ICE." But these measures do not address the underlying inhumanity of family detention. If the administration is serious about protecting children and trauma survivors, then ICE must release these families to the community — under individually determined terms of release or supervision — while their immigration cases make their way through the courts.

ICE's misguided effort to build child-friendly prison camps repeats the inhumanity that the U.S. government inflicted on Japanese-American families during World War II. If Obama administration officials implementing family detention ignore the lessons of the past, they will assure their own ignoble place in history.

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Duke Wesselton

You can not come in to the United States without permission.

Anonymous

They are asking for temporary entry which you can do if you are requesting ASYLUM. Please read the law. Asylum applies to Americans seeking protection from our government, as well.

Jeffery Clark

George Bush Junior. This all started with he and his phony war. And it has morphed into a war against humanity, instrumented by the wealthy, to supplant freedom and prosperity with communal punishment for daring to defy the government. New World Order freemasons like Bush, Cheney, Clinton, Obama and the rest of the New Communists, the freemasons. Some 50,000 or so individuals, a cabal, has seized our government with rigged elections (Florida) and are bringing Possi Comatatis home to roost to subjugate us for the next phase of their plan, our total capitulation to freemason laws and edicts. Now on the financial channels you see their corporate enterprise system speaking of how good a thing small drones are that use facial recognition to spy on us, under the guise of keeping us safe. I live by Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, and these posts have earned me the deployment of military aircraft to track me withing community, the placement of a stingray cell tower simulator in Emerald Isle, where I frequent, and police, full on, permanant dispatches to where I go, regularly. And folks, all that has been happening to me because I dissent in public forums. This includes Sneek and Peek illegal break ins where my home is stolen from regularly and my intellectual property is spirited away and given to freemason businesses...and all this IS COMING in short order for all of you, too.

corinna bell

All of you who want these illegals to have hotel like accommodations should start funding it yourselves. You libs are all about free birth control....hook 'em up. That should help with these poor children constantly being born into this "violence".

Anonymous

That is not what this article was about. We want them to live like the rest of us...in the community while their cases are decided through the immigration courts. There are citizen activists that support U.S. AID international family planning programs that Republicans have taken out of the funding legislation several times, so you can see the dilemma. Maybe think deeper instead of trolling and spewing hateful speech. Are you a Native American? I bet your ancestors came without permission too!

Anonymous

I like the suggestion to place them in hotels instead of prisons.
At $260 million per year for locking up 2400 inmates, the prison costs US taxpayers just under $300/day per inmate.
A mother and two kids could get a room at a hotel for $300/night plus get $100/day for food and it would still cost less than half the $900/day we are paying for keeping the three in prison.
Seems that the price of immoral government action is high.

Anonymous

No sure where /\ above posters are going with their comments as they have absolutely nothing in common with the article… So I am guess none of you care to actually read anything.
The ALCU is discussing the unnecessary hostility from the detention staff… As in, why are officials in uniforms yelling at, screaming at, and scaring the piss out off toddlers? Or why do they need to break up families, the rooms are very large and can house 15 people!?
It seems like neither of those actions are warranted in order to achieve the goals of the facilities, which is to provide interim housing. It actually seems like ICE is going out of its way to be an unnecessary negative force in these people's lives. ALCU is saying these government employees are in effect wasting our tax dollars, therefore misusing our tax money, on unnecessary work by going out o their way to be being cruel.
Whether or not someone supports the overall system of immigration or the refugee process in the US, has absolutely nothing to do with how human beings are being treated. They are separate concepts. I can dislike immigration, and still think that humans deserve to be treated a certain way. None of you seem to understand that or be able to separate maintaining two separate beliefs.
Yes these programs are expensive. However, the reason why these things happen are a direct result of US geopolitical relations. The US and other leading powers have more producing power. So their goods are cheaper, they turn around and outsell local markets in these smaller less developed nations, which in turn causes these people to have no way to make money. Where do you go when you cannot make money??????? Somewhere that you can. This is the economy of survival.

Anonymous

No sure where /\ above posters are going with their comments as they have absolutely nothing in common with the article… So I am guess none of you care to actually read anything.
The ALCU is discussing the unnecessary hostility from the detention staff… As in, why are officials in uniforms yelling at, screaming at, and scaring the piss out off toddlers? Or why do they need to break up families, the rooms are very large and can house 15 people!?
It seems like neither of those actions are warranted in order to achieve the goals of the facilities, which is to provide interim housing. It actually seems like ICE is going out of its way to be an unnecessary negative force in these people's lives. ALCU is saying these government employees are in effect wasting our tax dollars, therefore misusing our tax money, on unnecessary work by going out o their way to be being cruel.
Whether or not someone supports the overall system of immigration or the refugee process in the US, has absolutely nothing to do with how human beings are being treated. They are separate concepts. I can dislike immigration, and still think that humans deserve to be treated a certain way. None of you seem to understand that or be able to separate maintaining two separate beliefs.
Yes these programs are expensive. However, the reason why these things happen are a direct result of US geopolitical relations. The US and other leading powers have more producing power. So their goods are cheaper, they turn around and outsell local markets in these smaller less developed nations, which in turn causes these people to have no way to make money. Where do you go when you cannot make money??????? Somewhere that you can. This is the economy of survival.

Anonymous

When my spouse was deployed over seas for several weeks, he stayed in a hotel. When there were riots in the streets, the inhabitants of the hotel, including my spouse, were held under house arrest for their protection. If a hotel in a third world country was able to house and protect their foreign guests, surely we could do something along the same line with our hotels for our immigration detainees? Prisons are dehumanizing. There has to be a better way.

Anonymous

The facility was built to hold people who are here illegally. Speaking to many of them they like living there. They prefer it the living in a place we're they have nothing. Improvements could be made so that it is not ran like a prison but working at a prison I have to say they are not treated in such a way. The similarities is ristrictions and doing what is necessary so they dnt leave. My main issue is you keep saying "Dilley" keep in mind that is the location of the facility, it's not the facility it's self. It is not our fault that the government decided to build it in our small town, it is offending.

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