The Cost of Family Detention Centers and Failed American Immigration Policies

By Dan Cadman on August 15, 2016

The Washington Post has published a story titled "Inside the administration's $1 billion deal to detain Central American asylum seekers". Interestingly, it was classified as a business story, one presumes because it discusses details of the government's contractual arrangements for a family detention center with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), although the narrative goes far beyond mere recitation of fiscal factoids in raising the issue.

The article mentions, for instance, that the four-year $1 billion contract guarantees CCA a full occupancy rate, whether or not the facility is in fact filled to capacity. The gist of the article's bent can be found in a single paragraph, though:

The facility in Dilley — built in the middle of sunbaked scrubland, in what used to be a camp for oil workers — now holds the majority of the country's mother-and-child detainees. Such asylum seekers, until two years ago, had rarely been held in detention. They instead settled in whatever town they chose, told to eventually appear in court. The Obama administration's decision to transform that policy — pushed by lawmakers assailing the porous state of the nation's border — shows how the frenzy of America's immigration politics can also bolster a private sector that benefits from a get-tough stance.

It approvingly quotes Rep. Zoe Lofgren as saying, "For the most part, what I see is a very expensive incarceration scheme. It's costly to the taxpayers and achieves almost nothing, other than trauma to already traumatized individuals."

The problem with this article is that it begins with the presumption that securing the nation's borders and preserving America's sovereignty is strictly a matter of economics — it isn't, wasn't, and never will be — or, alternatively, that it is, and must inevitably be, a purely humanitarian issue to be seen through the lens of illegal aliens and open borders advocates — but it isn't, wasn't, and never will be that, either.

Even as they roundly condemn the costs of contracts such as the one with CCA, critics demand that detention centers act as surrogate communities replete with all of the medical and social services one would find in a reasonably prosperous small town: schools, libraries, gyms, recreation centers, etc. They do this despite the fact that detention in the immigration context is not as it is in the criminal justice world, which is to say punitive and often long-term; rather, it is for the sole purpose of temporarily holding individuals until they are removed.

But the same critics who decry costs and deplore trauma do everything in their power to grind the government's removals system to a halt, thus virtually guaranteeing that detention will be for the maximum, rather than the minimum, amount of time needed. They do this knowing that they will then have multiple recourses in the courts to argue over detention conditions, relief from detention through habeas corpus, and legal arguments over what constitutes a refugee or asylee. Ultimately, the removals system breaks down, as it seems to have done under the Obama administration, which in many ways has been its own worst enemy. And the human cost is the continued flow northward of Central Americans — and even Haitians, Africans, Chinese and others who have begun launching their attempts to penetrate the United States' southern border via way-stations such as Ecuador or Costa Rica, and onward through Mexico. Many are victimized along the way.

The nation's answer to every international crisis that results in dislocation of human beings, whether by war, terror, crime/drugs/violence, or acts of God and nature, cannot be to open our doors ever wider. We cannot expansively interpret away all restrictions built into international and domestic legal definitions of asylum and refuge and creatively imagine into being "executive action" programs that have no basis in statute, solely as a way to avoid expeditiously deporting the tidal wave of humans who seek to enter, or have entered, illegally.

Many open borders advocates and liberal progressives seem to believe that it is the United States government's job to act in loco parentis for all of the failed and failing countries in the world — and that the only way to do this is to welcome hundreds of thousands to our shores from across the globe. As often as not, the leaders of those countries gladly cede that role to us rather than take the hard steps needed to bootstrap their people, their societies, and their economies into the 21st Century. But taking on such a role through turning a blind eye toward mass migration is irresponsible, and no more realistic or likely to be successful than believing our international role is to be the global policeman.