Flawed Policy and Modern Day Internment Camps

The undocumented immigrant faces a variety of hardships: language barriers, assimilating into society, and legal consequences to name a few. But, an unforeseen hardship comes in the form of internment camps, otherwise known as family detention centers. Through these family detention centers, undocumented immigrants with families are being held in trailers surrounded by cement walls in what would parallel a criminal detention center. In the end, these undocumented immigrant families face the inevitable end: deportation.

In the 1940s, then President Roosevelt—by use of executive order—committed the U.S. to a flawed policy of internment camps. Here, the U.S. rounded up Japanese Americans, ripping them away from their communities and jobs, and piling them into concrete holding tanks. The flawed policy was validated in Korematsu v. U.S., where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the executive order as being constitutional. Years later, after the internment camp policy was abandoned, the Supreme Court reversed its holding. The Justices lamented afterwards, that in their original holding, they had succumbed to public pressure instead of upholding the constitution.

The aftermath of the internment camps had a souring effect. Japanese immigrants who were confined found it almost impossible to integrate back into their original communities. The disdain of the public toward the evacuees was high, and buttressed by the flawed internment policy. The U.S. raped evacuees of their homes, jobs, assets, and communities, with the unknown consequences to the future. Additionally, the U.S. stripped these evacuees of an essential personal element: their character. To this day, internment camps are a blemish on U.S. history, and policy.

In similar fashion, today, U.S. policy finds itself in the same predicament with immigrant family detention centers.

In a 1997 settlement arising out of Flores v. Reno, the U.S. policy on undocumented juveniles arriving alone was defined. This policy—known as the Flores Agreement—provided that education, medical services, recreation, and social orientation programs, in addition to providing the necessary food and shelter, would be available to unaccompanied juveniles. Additionally, the policy had an inclination toward release, not deportation or continued confinement.

Nonetheless, policy reversed in 2005 when former President Bush’s Administration began to indiscriminately confine undocumented juveniles who were with, or without, family. The beginning of immigrant family detention centers was born.

In fiscal year (FY) 2000 there were just over 4,000 unaccompanied juveniles detained in these centers; by the time former President Bush was out of office, these numbers swelled to over 18,000 in FY 2009. With these staggering numbers, President Obama’s administration did an about-face, returning to the pre-2005 policy, which focused more on release instead of deportation, or prolonged confinement.

Today, however, is a different story. With the global recession hitting hard in 2010, less Mexicans immigrate to the U.S.; but, sister countries in Central America, like Honduras, became gripped with violence and crime setting off a new wave of immigrants from Central America seeking asylum. The new wave of immigrants became the catalyst for the Administration to review its policies to ensure national security. In so doing, the policy is now focused—again—on deportation or prolonged confinement.

The systemic ripple effect of such bad policy is unknown. Candidly, this policy should be questioned as to whether it actually frustrates national security, instead of furthering it. As the 1940s internment camps proved, assimilation to society if granted asylum will be nearly impossible. Additionally, the internment policy left a soured taste for both the communities, and evacuees alike. Here, the same is likely to be the product of such flawed policy. Furthermore, these detentions centers, similar to the internment camps, will become just another blemish on the U.S.’s record.

Finally, the current policy is detaining and/or deporting immigrants who could possibly stay in the U.S. on asylum. Treading on this fine line, the current policy is sending back immigrant families to their fates who face crime, violence, and death threats in their home country. Moreover, it is flatly inconsistent with the well-established Flores Agreement. Nevertheless, President Obama’s Administration continues to pursue this contradictory policy destroying U.S. moral, and, more importantly, destroying a vital artery of the U.S.—immigrant families.