Two dead children in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Thousands more being held in facilities ill-equipped to care for children. An overall decline in illegal immigration, yet an administration that shouts emergency, even shutting down the government to raise funds for a border wall that won’t close off the country no matter how high it is built.
Now, Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham is announcing that she will explore how states can regulate federally run detention centers.
While that may be a stretch of state powers, it is important for leaders closer to the actual border to weigh in — and perhaps stop — inhumane practices.
The two children who died both were taken into custody in New Mexico and detained in our state; earlier, Roxsana Hernandez, a Honduran transgender woman died in an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility in Cibola County.
If we do not act, we are complicit. How the United States treats asylum-seekers is a federal issue, but these deaths are happening in New Mexico. It must be our concern.
Last summer, members of the New Mexico Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee heard from people who had been detained by the federal government.
The testimony was troubling, with stories of detainees being denied medications or treatment and handled as dangerous criminals, rather than asylum-seekers fleeing violence and oppression.
Much of what is taking place, of course, is out of a state’s control.Oversight is possible, say some lawmakers, however.
That’s because these federal facilities generally are operated by private companies. New Mexico can regulate private industry.
One idea being discussed would be legislation to limit the deals counties can make with the government and these companies to operate detention facilities.
Many of these facilities are open because of contracts entered into with county government anxious to make money; this is an extremely local issue in which the state as a whole, though, could intervene. For example, California has passed a measure forbidding ICE and for-profit companies to expand or enter into new agreements for detention centers in the state. That’s one possibility here.
Congress also considered the Detention Oversight Not Expansion Act this year. It would increase oversight of ICE detention centers and halt funds for construction or expansion of new facilities; a federal solution would be best, although unlikely given the current makeup of the government.
We wonder, too, whether the state could require unannounced checks on facilities, whether by fact-finding teams of lawmakers or health officials charged with ensuring detainees receive proper medical attention. Can the state pass laws requiring better access to facilities for lawyers, volunteers or other people who can improve conditions? Or, could counties make such terms part of their contracts?
What is happening — and good for state leaders, including our soon-to-be governor — is that New Mexico is putting the for-profit operators and the feds on notice.
This state will no longer look the other way while children die and detainees are mistreated. That’s exactly the right response if we are to change our cruel immigration and asylum policies before the point of no return.