Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 | 2 a.m.
State and local officials can and should play an important role in addressing the humanitarian crisis that is America’s treatment of immigrant detainees.
So writes John Hudak of the Brookings Institution in an insightful paper that should be required reading for Nevada leaders at all levels.
As Hudak points out, the zero-tolerance policy at the border has swamped federal facilities and forced the government to contract for space in state-regulated detention centers such as county and city jails or private prisons. For children who arrive unaccompanied at the border or are separated from their parents after arrests, similar arrangements have become necessary to house them in shelters.
Hudak says those arrangements give state-level and local leadership an opportunity to ensure immigrant detainees are being treated humanely. He reasons that by inspecting the facilities, revealing any substandard conditions they might find and taking actions accordingly, non-federal officials can make a difference.
“What states have the ability to do is three-fold,” he said during an interview this week while visiting UNLV. “One is to go to Congress and say, ‘This is what we’re finding and this is what needs to change.’ Two, they can go to the inspector general of (the Department of Homelan Security) and make these issues known. And third, they can work within their own state. If this is a state-run or state-regulated facility and conditions are substandard because of what is happening in those facilities, it’s incumbent on the state to exercise its regulatory power.”
Hudak is a senior fellow for Brookings, a Washington-based progressive think-tank, where he focuses on governance studies and public management. He says that in examining how states and localities responded to the immigration crisis, he learned that many took a counterproductive approach in registering their opposition to the Trump administration’s harsh policies.
“States’ responses so far have been sanctuary cities or refusal to accept detainees in state, local or private facilities,” he said. “That (refusal) is an effort to stop mistreatment within state borders, but what it actually does is transfer those individuals to other detention centers around the country. It’s likely overcrowding those detention centers.”
Hudak contends the solution is to accept detainees and work diligently to provide them with the care that the federal government is denying them. It’s a growing need amid mounting reports of horrific conditions in federal facilities: children being kept in chain-link cages, detainees being denied such necessities as clean clothes and bathing facilities, overcrowding, etc.
“The Department of Homeland Security itself is saying, ‘We’re doing a bad job, things need to change, conditions are substandard,’” Hudak said.
In addition to inspections, Hudak also urges state and local leaders to allow media into facilities to report on conditions and interview detainees.
“The more information that can get out there, the more I think people will appreciate and understand it’s a humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Taking these actions would take guts, of course. It could reveal embarrassing problems that would require local tax dollars to fix. But Hudak argues — correctly — that it’s the responsible thing to do.
“I think any elected official and any member of the public should hope that those facilities would provide at least a minimal standard of care for these individuals, whether they’re immigrants or individuals who have gone through the criminal justice system as American citizens,” he said. “It’s easy to write this off. It’s easy to say, ‘People made bad choices and now they’re facing bad conditions.’ But that’s a really cowardly approach to public policy, especially when you think about people who are fleeing political violence, women who are experiencing sexual violence and children who have no choice in the matter.”
In Nevada, Immigration and Customs Enforcement lists three detention centers on its website — the Henderson Detention Center, the Washoe County Jail in Reno and the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump. We trust state and local officials are working to ensure conditions at those sites are humane, and in any other facility where immigrant detainees may be housed.
We’d also encourage them to read Hudak’s report for ideas about how to further address the crisis. It can be found at tinyurl.com/hudak-report.