Trump’s ‘Extreme’ Plan for ‘Huge’ Alien Detention Camps

So extreme, the revered Hesburgh Commission recommended a similar plan in 1981!

By George Fishman on November 20, 2023

The New York Times has breathlessly reported that presidential candidate Donald Trump has an “extreme” plan to set up “huge” detention camps for aliens as way stations for their deportation. Charlie Savage, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Swan write that:

  • Trump is planning an extreme expansion of his first-term crackdown on immigration if he returns to power in 2025 — including preparing to round up undocumented people already in the United States on a vast scale and detain them in sprawling camps while they wait to be expelled.

  • Mr. Trump wants to build huge camps to detain people while their cases are processed and they await deportation flights.

  • [B]ecause of the magnitude of arrests and deportations being contemplated, the[] plan [is] to build “vast holding facilities that would function as staging centers” for immigrants as their cases progress and they wait to be flown to other countries.

    [Stephen] Miller said the new camps would likely be built “on open land in Texas near the border.”

    [Miller] said the military would construct them under the authority and control of the Department of Homeland Security. While he cautioned that there were no specific blueprints yet, he said the camps would look professional and similar to other facilities for migrants that have been built near the border.

    If pursuing a long-shot effort to win permission to remain in the country would mean staying locked up in the interim, some may give up and voluntarily accept removal without going through the full process.

Shocking, you say! Well, tell that to the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, established by Congress in 1978 “to study and evaluate ... existing laws, policies, and procedures governing the admission of immigrants and refugees to the United States” and to make “administrative and legislative recommendations”. President Jimmy Carter selected the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., the president of the University of Notre Dame and former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to chair the Commission.

Daniel Tichenor, professor of political science and director of the Wayne Morse Center’s Program for Democratic Governance at the University of Oregon, writes in his magisterial book Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America that:

  • The … [C]ommission would … profoundly shape immigration policy in the 1980s.

  • [The Commission] offered an influential narrative in 1981 that legitimated expansive legal immigration, refugee admissions, and alien rights, while assailing illegal immigration for its deleterious effects on public health, social equality, and the rule of law.

  • [Father Hesburgh was] committed to elevating ideas and policy proposals forceful enough to transcend partisan and special interests. [The Commission’s] composition included four public members, four Cabinet secretaries, and eight congressional members, many of whom belonged to ethnic and racial groups ... once described as inferior immigrant stock… . includ[ing] a Cuban American AFL-CIO official, a Japanese American assistant to Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, and a Mexican American judge.

  • [Commission members] stressed the importance of racial nondiscrimination and other civil-rights values in formulating immigration policy…. [C]ommissioners like Rose Ochi, whose Japanese American parents were interned during World War II, Judge Cruz Reynosa, whose father was deported in one of the mass expulsions of Mexicans during the 1930s, and Hesburgh … frequently emphasized the importance of racial equality and alien rights in national immigration policy.

  • Members of Congress reverently and frequently cited [the Commission’s] research and recommendations in subsequent legislative debates.

  • [A]dherence to notions of racial justice and civil rights values was a theme that deeply informed [the Commission’s] pro-immigration policy paradigm.

  • The immigration reforms adopted in 1986 and 1990 largely codified the central ideas advanced by the Hesburgh Commission … . The social knowledge and policy alternatives endorsed by [the Commission] … enjoyed special intellectual and bipartisan credibility in the policymaking process.

Sen. Alan Simpson stated during Senate floor consideration of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that the legislation was “the basic work product of [the Commission]”.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson awarded Father Hesburgh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor “presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors”. Legislation was enacted in 1999 awarding Father Hesburgh the Congressional Gold Medal. It stated that:

The Congress finds that—

(1) Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., has made outstanding and enduring contributions to American society through his activities in civil rights, higher education, the Catholic Church, the Nation, and the global community;

(2) Father Hesburgh was a charter member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights from its creation in 1957 and served as chairperson of the Commission from 1969 to 1972;

(3) Father Hesburgh was president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 until 1987, and has been president emeritus since 1987;

(4) Father Hesburgh is a national and international leader in higher education;

(5) Father Hesburgh has been honored with the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the National Catholic Education Association and with more than 130 honorary degrees;

(6) Father Hesburgh served as co-chairperson of the nationally influential Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and as chairperson, from 1994 to 1996, of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University;

(7) Father Hesburgh served under President Ford as a member of the Presidential Clemency Board, charged with deciding the fates of persons committing offenses during the Vietnam conflict;

(8) Father Hesburgh served as chairman of the board of the Overseas Development Council and in that capacity led fundraising efforts that averted mass starvation in Cambodia in 1979 and 1980;

(9) Father Hesburgh served from 1979 to 1981 as chairperson of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, which made recommendations that served as the basis of congressional reform legislation enacted 5 years later [Emphasis added.];

(10) Father Hesburgh served as ambassador to the 1979 United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development; and

(11) Father Hesburgh has served the Catholic Church in a variety of capacities, including his service from 1956 to 1970 as the permanent Vatican representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and his service as a member of the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations.

Almost 70 percent (292) of all member of the U.S. House Representatives co-sponsored the legislation and the House passed it by voice vote. The Senate passed it by unanimous consent.

During House floor consideration, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) stated that:

  • I rise in support of bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to a very worthy and outstanding American.

  • Justice has been the focus of many of [Father Hesburgh’s] outside involvements. He was a charter member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, created in 1957, and he chaired the Commission from 1969 to 1972, when President Nixon replaced him as chairman for his criticism of the administration's civil rights record.

U.S. Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) stated:

The United States Congress rarely authorizes gold medals. In this case, it is choosing to do so for a man who symbolizes the most profound of American values, a faith-based commitment to civil rights, to quality education, to peace and the processes needed to produce a more civil world. Father Hesburgh is a man of and for all seasons. His life is worthy of admiration and, more importantly, replication. Heroes are many kinds, but if there is such a thing as a hero of faith, it is Father Hesburgh. He has ennobled his church, his university, his country. With this Congressional Gold Medal, we honor his life and his contribution to our times.

U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) stated:

[T]he most proud times that I have spent with [Father Hesburgh] at lunch and dinner he has talked so passionately about his charter membership on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and how he fought so diligently in the 1960s, with the Kennedy and the Johnson administration, for the passage of the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act. That is something that Father Hesburgh continues to fight hard for and feels passionately about those civil rights for each and every American.

Father Hesburgh, through fighting for social justice, has always been amplifying the voice of the homeless, has always been advocating the concern of the poor and has always been trying to put a voice out there for those that are voiceless and poor and not able to lobby the government of the United States.

The other 15 Commission members included:

  • Rose Matsui Ochi, executive sssistant to the mayor of Los Angeles
  • Joaquin Francisco Otero, vice president, Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks
  • Jude Cruz Reynoso, associate justice, California Court of Appeals
  • Benjamin Civiletti, attorney general, Jimmy Carter administration
  • Patricia Roberts Harris, secretary of Health and Human Services, Jimmy Carter administration
  • F. Ray Marshall, secretary of Labor, Jimmy Carter administration
  • Edmund Muskie, secretary of State, Jimmy Carter administration
  • Dennis DeConcini, U.S. senator (D-Ariz.)
  • Edward Kennedy, U.S. senator (D-Mass.)
  • Charles Mathias, Jr., U.S. senator (R-Md.)
  • Alan Simpson, U.S. senator (R-Wyo.)
  • Hamilton Fish, Jr., U.S. representative (R-N.Y.)
  • Elizabeth Holtzman, U.S. representative (D-N.Y.)
  • Robert McClory, U.S. representative (R-Ill.)
  • Peter Rodino, Jr., U.S. representative (D-N.J.)

Oh, I almost forgot the Commission’s recommendation:

  • [A]n interagency body [should] be established to develop procedures, including contingency plans for opening and managing federal processing centers, for handling possible mass asylum emergencies. [Emphasis omitted.]

  • [T]his planning body [should] develop contingency plans for opening and managing federal asylum processing centers, where asylum applicants would stay while their applications were processed quickly and uniformly.

The Commission explained that among the “important benefits” of these “processing centers”:

  • Ineligible asylum applicants would not be released into communities where they might later evade U.S. efforts to deport them or create costs for local governments.

  • A deterrent would be provided for those who might see an asylum claim as a means of circumventing U.S. immigration law. Applicants would not be able to join their families or obtain work while at the processing center.

  • Law enforcement problems, which might arise as a result of a sudden influx of potential asylees, could be minimized.

The Commission passed the recommendation by a vote of 12-3 with one absence.

OK, the Commission’s “processing center” recommendation was in regard to handling “mass asylum emergencies”, with a focus on “a sudden influx” of aliens and presumably not the masses of “asylum seekers” already residing in the U.S. But the virtues of, and the objections to, the detention centers (let’s be honest) are the same. I guess the Hesburgh Commission didn’t realize how extreme it was!

Should the Trump campaign rebrand its plan by calling for “processing centers”? For that matter, should Congress award Stephen Miller the Congressional Medal of Honor?