Reuters reports that the U.S. government is transferring over 1,600 ICE detainees to federal prisons. It’s the first “large-scale use of federal prisons” to hold undocumented immigrants.
According to Reuters, five federal prisons—in California, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Arizona—will take in detainees awaiting immigration court hearings, including those who are seeking asylum. The largest influx will be in the California prison, in Victorville, where officials are preparing for a transfer of up to a thousand people.
While former President Barack Obama’s hands are also dirty in the U.S. deportation apparatus, Reuters notes that under Obama most migrants who didn’t have serious criminal records were allowed live in the U.S. while they awaited their court dates; in April, Trump signed a memo demanding an end to “catch and release.”
According to Reuters, federal prisons have been used before, but “not on this scale.” A former ICE official who worked for Obama said the new policy was actively harmful, which tells you something about how inhumane this is.
“A large percent of ICE detainees have no criminal record and are more vulnerable in a prison setting,” former ICE assistant director Kevin Landy, who headed the ICE office responsible for detention policy, told Reuters. “Security staff and administrators at BOP facilities have spent their careers dealing with hardened criminals serving long sentences for serious felonies, and the procedures and staff training reflect that. “This sudden mass transfer could result in some serious problems.”
As for prison employees, they don’t seem ready for the influx. “There is so much movement going on,” the prison employees union in Victorville’s local president told Reuters. “Everyone is running around like a chicken without their head.”
Earlier this week, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley had the police called on him while trying to visit a detention center for undocumented children. So, probably best not to expect congressional oversight to stop this anytime soon.