Photo illustration by Dorothea Lange/U.S. Federal Government, AP

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has made the jailing of vulnerable populations a campaign issue. More specifically, the Democratic presidential hopeful is urging the U.S. to stop jailing immigrant families in immigration detention centers.

O'Malley took his latest shot at the Department of Homeland Security this morning, asking why the agency insists on jailing immigrant families.

"Detaining refugee mothers and their children in internment camps is contrary to everything for which our country is supposed to stand,” O’Malley said in a statement sent to Fusion via email. “I urge the Administration to agree to the judge's request to place all refugee mothers and their children into the homes of their relatives or into foster care.”

O'Malley is relatively low in the polls and has little to lose, which is perhaps why he’s intensifying his words aimed at the Obama administration. Earlier this year, in May, he referred to the family detention facilities as “detention camps." Now he’s stepped it up a notch, calling them internment camps.  A spokesperson for the campaign said O’Malley was not referencing the internment camps the U.S. erected during World War II that incarcerated more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent.


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The ACLU and a number of other immigrant rights groups have compared the family detention facilities to internment camps that incarcerated Japanese-Americans. “More than anything else, Dilley feels like an updated version of these [World War II incarceration camps]” wrote Carl Takei, a staff attorney at ACLU National Prison Project, in a story earlier this year.


Two family detention facilities in Texas and one in Pennsylvania hold an estimated 1,700 mothers and their children who were caught entering the U.S. without proper authorization. The families are often detained until a judge can review and make a final decision about their cases.

U.S. Immigration and Customs officials say “family residential centers are an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family unity as families go through immigration proceedings or await return to their home countries,” press secretary Gillian Christensen said in an email.

“ICE ensures that these residential centers operate in an open environment, which includes medical care, play rooms, social workers, educational services, and access to legal counsel,” said Christensen.


O’Malley’s comments come two weeks after a federal judge in California ordered the Obama administration immediately release of children and their mothers caught entering the U.S. illegally.

The family detention facilities have also received dozens of complaints of medical neglect in the facilities. Two hundred and fifty children were accidentally given the wrong vaccine at the South Texas Family Residential Center.

Judge Dolly M. Gee of Federal District Court for the Central District of California found two detention centers in Texas that the administration opened last summer fail to meet minimum legal requirements of the 1997 settlement for facilities housing children,” according to The New York Times. Justice department lawyers on Thursday asked the judge to reconsider her decision.


Earlier this year at a campaign stop in Las Vegas Hillary Clinton also commented on detaining vulnerable populations.

“I think we have to do more to provide safe environments for vulnerable populations,” Clinton said in response to a question about transgender immigrants being detained in facilities that don’t correspond with their self-identified gender.

In a CBS News poll published this week, 58% of Democratic primary voters said Hillary Clinton was the most electable, followed by Bernie Sanders at 17%. O'Malley had 1% of voter confidence in the poll.


"As we did in Maryland, I call on a broad coalition of patriotic Americans —faith leaders as well as legal, health care, educational, religious, and non-profit leaders to help shepherd these vulnerable lives through our asylum process with love and compassion,” O’Malley said.

"We are Americans. We are a generous and compassionate people. We must not turn our back on those most in need," said O’Malley.