During a congressional hearing on Tuesday, the head of enforcement and removal operations for ICE, Matthew Albence, claimed that family detention centers look and feel like “summer camp” rather than jail, according to CNN.
When asked to elaborate, Albence told the Senate Judiciary Committee that these facilities, which hold families who have been detained for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, offer food, extracurricular activities, and healthcare to migrant parents and children being held there. “These individuals have access to 24/7 food and water. They have educational opportunities. They have recreational opportunities, both structured as well as unstructured.”
“They have extensive medical, dental and mental health opportunities,” Albence continued. “In fact, many of these individuals, the first time they’ve ever seen a dentist is when they’ve come to one of our (family residential) centers.”
At the hearing, which aimed to assess the Trump administration’s efforts to reunite migrant families who were previously separated at the border, only two out of the five panelists present had actually visited any of these family detention centers.
After being asked if they would feel comfortable sending their own children there, one panelist, Jennifer Higgins, said, “That’s a difficult question to answer.” The associate director of refugee, asylum, and international operations at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Higgins continued, “It’s difficult to put myself in the position of an individual who takes a dangerous journey in which their child could be harmed, let alone whether I would send my children.”
Albence doubled down on his description, insisting, “These individuals are there because they’ve broken a law.”
The deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, Lee Gelernt, however, was stunned by Albence’s comparison. Appearing on At This Hour on Tuesday, Gelernt said, “It doesn’t matter what the facilities look like. The trauma is from separating the child from the parent. Every night the child is going to sleep thinking, ‘Am I ever going to see my parents again?'”
“It doesn’t matter whether they are in palaces,” Gelernt added. “They certainly are not palaces. That’s a shocking statement.”
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw echoed Gelernt’s sentiment in early July after being invited to visit one of the HHS detention facilities. Sabraw declined the invitation, insisting that it doesn’t matter “how nice the environment is, it’s the act of separation from a parent, particularly with young children, that matters, and it’s time that is the issue.” At the time, the judge had just placed a temporary halt on the deportation of recently reunited migrant families.