Castro told Mother Jones that his concern for the treatment of these kids is a big reason why he prioritized a visit to the so-called “influx facility,” which the Biden administration reopened last month in an effort to get kids out of harmful Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities as soon as possible. But Carrizo Springs’ reopening came with huge worries for advocates, because these temporary sites are not licensed like Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities and do not have great records.
“We went with the understanding that the best place for these children to be is not in a government facility, but in the homes of their American sponsors, as they await their court dates for asylum,” Castro told Mother Jones. “These emergency shelters are better places for the children than the CBP processing centers, but they still need to be moved out as quickly as possible to be with family sponsors.”
Children are supposed to be transferred from CBP to HHS no later than 3 days after arrival, but due to HHS capacity, thousands of children have been detained for longer than that in these unsafe border facilities. “[T]hose are the most cramped, unsanitary, and I would argue dangerous places, especially for children,” Castro said. While Mother Jones reported that Rep. Barbara Lee said she was “pleased to see and learn that these young people have crisis intervention and mental health services available to them” at Carrizo Springs, child welfare experts have said that whenever a child has to be a in U.S. custody, smaller settings are more appropriate, and it must always be for as short a time as possible.
Carrizo Springs was open for just a month under the previous administration before it was shuttered, facing angry protests over the previous administration’s inhumane treatment of kids and their families. Castro said he believes the Biden administration “is committed to solutions now.”
“They obviously have a lot of catching up to do—most of all, because of how Donald Trump left the asylum system in the United States,” he told Mother Jones. “He did as much as he could to dismantle the system for processing and settling asylees in the United States. I would say the big difference now is you have an administration that acknowledges there’s a problem and wants to fix it. Back then you had an administration that knew there was a problem and didn’t want to lift a finger to do anything about it and, in fact, I think inflicted pain upon these people as a political message.”
“[I] will go back to the CBP processing centers,” Castro continued. “And I think we should all be able to agree that those conditions are unacceptable. And even Joe Biden yesterday suggested as much in his press conference. And so what you see now is that Congress tried to work with the administration to remedy this.”
Echavarri asked Castro if more humane treatment would “require more resources or a different way of spending those resources?” Castro replied, “[i]t’s a combination of both. I think we’ve got to take a serious look at how we spend our money. For example, of course, President Biden has halted border wall construction, but during the four years under President Trump, it was a grave mistake to be spending money on a border wall when we were confronting a lot of the challenges that Trump has left us with now.”
But even when Congress sent emergency humanitarian funds to CBP following the deaths of children in U.S. custody, the agency illegally spent some of those emergency funds on dirt bikes and computer upgrades. “More money is now spent on immigration enforcement than on all other federal enforcement combined, and the agencies in charge—ICE and CBP, both part of the Department of Homeland Security—are notorious for violating detainees’ rights, torture, and even murder,” advocacy groups said earlier this year.
Fundamental changes to how we treat children and other asylum-seekers will require fundamental changes at federal agencies, they say. “The Biden administration needs to keep taking action to dismantle the enforcement system, fundamentally reform the government agencies tasked with enforcing immigration to put human rights and needs first, and ensure that Congress adopts a path to citizenship for all of our community members,” they continued.