When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
A young child and his mother wait in a US border detention center before being returned to their home country.
Over the past few years, record numbers of children, usually from Mexico or Central America and often traveling alone, have crossed illegally into the United States. From October 2011 to October 2012, some 31,000 juveniles (PDF) were apprehended by the Border Patrol. And according to a new report, more and more of them have landed in immigration detention centers—alongside adults.
Data obtained by the nonprofit National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) shows that the federal government detained at least 1,366 immigrant children for three or more days in 30 adult facilities between 2008 and 2012. The data, secured in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and released Tuesday, also shows that nearly 1,000 were held longer than a week. Five children were detained more than a year, and one was held more than a decade, starting at around age 15.
And these numbers could be the tip of the iceberg: DHS provided the NIJC with data from only 30 of the 200 or so immigration detention centers currently in operation.
"The immigration detention enforcement system is broken," says Mary Meg McCarthy, the NIJC's executive director. "If there are 1,300 kids over a period of four years in adult detention facilities, there's a real problem. Because that's not what the law says. That's not what's supposed to be happening. As a country, we shouldn't be detaining these kids, period, but especially not in adult facilities."
Of the immigrant kids housed in adult detention centers, the vast majority of them were 17 years old at the time of detention—though 37 were younger than 15.
Not only does a 1997federal settlement call for apprehended undocumented children to be held in the least restrictive setting appropriate to their age and needs, but it also explicitly mandates that "juveniles will not be detained with an unrelated adult for more than 24 hours." According to DHS data, 19 immigrant children were held in adult facilities for more than 180 days.
McCarthy says the NIJC wanted data from the facilities where it had clients, as well as large, geographically dispersed detention centers. As you can see in the chart below, the 10 adult facilities with the most detained children were all located in border states, with 8 of them in either Arizona or Texas.
McCarthy, who says she's encouraged by the recent headway on immigration reform in the Senate, notes that when undocumented immigrants are detained by DHS, they often don't have access to legal counsel. "They become disappeared in the system," she says. "But when you're detaining more than 400,000 people a year in 200 jails, and you have all these different people involved in this mammoth system without any due process protections, it just lends itself to this type of problem. It just cries out for reform."
Left to right: Nets teammates Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Jason Collins in 2006
In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, the NBA's Jason Collins became the first active player in any of the big four sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) to announce he was gay. His opening paragraph: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
Toward the end of his must-read story, Collins, a 7-foot, 255-pounder who has played for six teams in his 12-year pro career, ponders the fallout from his announcement:
I've been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I'm a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I've taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn't an issue before, and it won't be one now. My conduct won't change. I still abide by the adage, "What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room." I'm still a model of discretion.
Here's what President Obama had to say about Collins when asked at his Tuesday press conference:
And here's a look at what some people—some NBA players, some not—tweeted on Monday:
Fernanda Lopez and Jonathan Halvorson started going out after sharing a journalism class as freshmen at San Jose State University. Things were going great—so great, in fact, that Lopez decided to let Halvorson in on her big secret: She's an undocumented immigrant.
"I never actually said the words, 'I'm undocumented,'" Lopez said. "I told him I couldn't get a driver's license, I couldn't really get financial aid, I can't get a job, those kinds of things—and eventually, it was out."
Lopez's immigration status didn't faze Halvorson, a US citizen; two years later, the couple is still going strong. On Saturday, Lopez shared her "coming out" story in a talk titled "Undocumented Love" at the University of California-Berkeley's sixth-annual Aspire to Rise conference, where some 400 undocumented students, family members, and advocates—some from as far away as Humboldt County, four hours north—gathered to learn about paying for college, negotiating the Obama administration's deferred-action program, and, yes, dating while undocumented.
The Kansas secretary of state and intellectual author of harsh laws in states like Arizona and Alabama was back at it again earlier today, this time at the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on the Gang of Eight's immigration bill. In response to questions from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kobach said that "self-deportation is not some radical idea. It is simply the idea that people may comply with the law by their own choice."
The poised Kobach has seemed undeterred by his party's shift away from the attrition-through-enforcement framework, telling the Kansas City Star in February, "It's not my voice—it's the voice of the American people." (Just a couple of days earlier, for example, Newt Gingrich had appeared on CNN's The Situation Room and said of self-deportation, "That is the most anti-human phrase you can imagine…I think it was very unfortunate and frankly helped cost us the election.")
But Durbin, a longtime immigrant advocate and one of the original cosponsors of the DREAM Act, was all too happy to remind Kobach of the GOP's lingering Latino (and Asian American) problem. "The voters had the last word on self-deportation on November 6th," he said. "So we're beyond that now. You can stick with that theory as long as you'd like."
If his testimony is any indication, Kobach won't be changing his tune anytime soon.
Naming its long-awaited comprehensive immigration bill the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 wasn't just an alphabetical flourish by the bipartisan Senate Gang of Eight: Securing the border always was going to be its No. 1 stated goal.
So it's no surprise that the bill calls for the Department of Homeland Security to present Congress with plans for security and fencing strategies for the southern border before any of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants can become "Registered Provisional Immigrants," allowing them to legally live and work in the United States. And before RPIs can apply for green cards, a border enforcement plan must be "substantially operational," "maintaining effective control in all high-risk border sectors" in the Southwest.
Too bad, though, that there's still no way to know how the bill's benchmark border security stats will be determined.