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Credit: Sharon Lee , Isabel Liang

No administration, regardless of party, should disregard the humanity of individuals seeking refuge. In February, the Biden administration opened an emergency facility in western Texas scheduled to hold up to 700 hundred migrant children ranging from ages 13 to 17. While the administration has cited safety concerns for the migrant children due to the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for adding another facility, these camps are often shamefully left in a gruesome, unsafe, and dangerous living condition. According to a March interview conducted with migrant children, many reported sleeping on the floor, rarely seeing light, and lacking nutritional resources. These are not living conditions any parent would want for their children, and it’s time for America to grapple with their constant disregard for immigrants, often minorities, when they come seeking help.

Similar to the Trump administration, the Biden administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification for immigration policies that benefit no one. Biden’s reopening of the Carrizo immigration facility as well as the opening of a facility in Midland, Tex. facility, a former oil rig camp, to house children is unnecessary and promotes an agenda of harsh immigration policy. Making matters worse, the administration has also apparently discussed plans to use military bases as immigration facilities. Although the decision is explained as being due to social distancing guidelines, many of the children who will be housed in these facilities have sponsors or family members in the U.S. ready to welcome them home. The children have even already completed a two-week quarantine. Thus, COVID-19 safety is clearly not the true reason behind the opening of the migration center, and the administration must do better processing sponsors and releasing children from inhumane, jail-like facilities. Reopening these facilities is a step backwards in immigration policy.

The continuation of these facilities, which lack cleanliness and resources for children suffering from trauma, reflects America’s disregard for migrant children. As representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted on Feb. 23, “As long as we see people seeking a better life as ‘aliens’ instead of fellow human beings, our immigration system will continue to fail us.” 

When running for president, Biden’s official position strongly condemned Trump’s immigration policies, citing them as immoral, uneducated, and bad for the economy. He claimed he would build a “fair and humane immigration system.” In his first 100 days, Biden promised that he would roll back Trump’s immigration policies such as barriers to asylum seeking, family separation, and mass deportations. In some ways, Biden has made efforts to fulfill his campaign goals, notably with the proposal for the immigration reform bill that would offer more pathways to citizenship for many. However, in other actions, the Biden administration has not lived up to their promises. Although Biden signed a 100-day moratorium on deportations on his first day in office, hundreds of people have been deported just in the past few months violating his own policies and calling into question his commitment to fair immigration policy.

President Biden does not need to reinvent the wheel. From January 2016 to June 2017, the U.S. government tested an initiative called Family Case Management Program (FCMP) to provide support to families seeking asylum without utilizing detention centers or electric monitoring. FCMP had compliance rates of over 99% for court hearings, ICE appointments, and departures. Providing community-based support to immigrants — rather than relying on detention facilities — improves court appearance rates and compliance with final case outcomes while minimizing the disruption to families and damage to immigrants’ mental and physical health

Community-based alternatives are not only more humane, but also less expensive. The cost of detention is about $133.99 per adult per day and $319 per family bed per day. In contrast, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, a nonprofit organization, provided case management support and housing to families for an average of $14.05 per individual per day.

Rather than building new detention facilities, President Biden should restart the FCMP and redirect resources and funding to scale up nonprofit initiatives. Immediately upon arrival in the U.S., immigrants should be screened and assigned a temporary ID, court appointment, and community organization to guide them through the immigration process.

President Biden must build an immigration system based on transparency, fairness, and respect for human dignity. These alternatives build a streamlined immigration process and preserve the values of compassion and humanity that our country claims to value and President Biden has promised to represent. It’s time to stop treating refugees as anything but human. It is time to start recognizing immigrants for what they are: an essential part of America’s economy, identity, and infrastructure.

PENN DEMOCRATS works to advance progressive policies within the Democratic Party at Penn and around Philadelphia. Their executive board sets goals for the organization and is made up of nine students.