Members of Congress, activists decry border camp conditions

By: - July 3, 2019 4:51 pm
Detained immigrants

Detained migrants are loaded into a U.S. Border Patrol van at the border of the United States and Mexico on March 31, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As public scrutiny intensifies over conditions in migrant detention facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border, both protesters and congressional lawmakers from Michigan are voicing their opposition to President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration enforcement policies.

About 60 people gathered outside of the Ypsilanti office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) on Tuesday, as part of a nationwide string of rallies urging members of Congress to pressure the Trump administration to shut down migrant camps along the southern border.

Immigration protesters
Yaquelin Lopez (C) stands with other activist during a press conference being held across the street from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office to announce a travel alert for the state of Florida on April 10, 2019 in Miramar, Florida. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Others rallied in Detroit on Tuesday against detention camps as part of the #CloseTheCamps protest movement organized by MoveOn and other immigrant rights groups. The Detroit Free Press reported last week that new data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shows that Michigan has the second highest ICE arrest rate in the nation.

Immigrant rights organizations like the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) and Michigan United are planning a rally on the Michigan Capitol lawn in Lansing on July 12. Holocaust survivor Rene Lichtman is scheduled to speak.

Lichtman testified before Michigan’s House in June 2017, saying President Trump administration’s immigration efforts have mirrored those of the Nazi regime in rounding up Jews.

Other protests are planned on the same day in Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and Detroit.

Adonis Flores, an organizer for Michigan United, said the group is trying to draw further attention to “the inhumane treatment that children and families are facing in detention at the border and, of course, the fact that the GEO Group … is also trying to open a detention center in Michigan.”

The Advance was first to report that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cancelled a plan to sell state land to another company trying to build a private immigrant detention center in Ionia, but the Florida-based GEO Group plans to revive a private, 1,800-bed facility in Baldwin after winning a contract from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to house “non-U.S. citizen criminal aliens.”

“Things have gone from bad to terrible over the last few years,” Flores said. “And the way that asylum seekers and children are being treated in these detention centers is not far away from human atrocity.

“We’re calling on anybody that believes in democracy and is not willing to tolerate fascism in our country to stop it before it’s too late. The severity of how things have gotten in Border Patrol and ICE treatment of these families is an outrage for any democracy.”

The issue has galvanized not only activists, but Michigan’s federal lawmakers.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) visited a detention facility in Florida, and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) toured camps in Texas this week, at the invitation of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas).

Lawrence to tour controversial Florida migrant detention facility

Lawrence and seven other members of the Democratic House majority toured the Homestead facility near Miami, which houses about 2,600 unaccompanied minors, according to a CBS News report.

Tlaib said that adults and children in the El Paso facility and elsewhere are regularly denied clean water, showers, adequate nutrition and other basic necessities as a result of overcrowded facilities.

“I saw a young boy who looked to be three or four years old, who kept asking me ‘Where is Papa?’ through a glass door,” Tlaib said in a statement. 

“It is sickening that human beings are being held in these conditions, and that CBP and ICE agents think it’s just a big joke. … When a woman asked for water, she was told by agents of our federal government to drink it from the toilet.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell | Andrew Roth

Dingell, meanwhile, said she learned from a radio program that her Ypsilanti office had been picketed.

She said she “would have liked to have been there,” but was at a previously planned visit to an Ann Arbor veterans’ facility. She appeared on Fox News Tuesday, slamming the reported conditions at immigrant detention facilities.

“I care deeply about these children and families and the situation at the border remains untenable,” Dingell said in a statement. “From what I have seen, heard reported and spoke with colleagues about who had been at the border yesterday — the treatment of detainees is unacceptable.”

Dingell said Congress must act on “comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, respects families, provides permanent protections for Dreamers, helps employers, and provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living and contributing to our country.”

ProPublica reported Monday that a private Facebook group for Border Patrol agents featured derogatory comments about Latina lawmakers planning to visit facilities in Clint and El Paso, including a post mentioning compensation for whoever would throw a burrito at Ocasio-Cortez and Escobar.

AOC calls out private prison company opening Michigan immigration facility

Susan Reed, managing attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights CenterCouncil, said she’s seen an increasing number of rallies spearheaded by churches and grassroots groups as the treatment of undocumented immigrants continues to be a flashpoint for progressives.

“I think it’s wonderful. We’re not in the lead on this,” Reed said of established immigrant rights groups like MIRC. “In many ways, we’re following local communities.”

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.