WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Oct. 11 announced the introduction of the No Internment Camps Act, legislation to prevent the Trump Administration from forcing families fleeing persecution abroad into internment camps while they await their asylum hearings.
Since the summer, the administration has aggressively pursued a strategy of forcing such families to wait in internment camps for their asylum hearings. In recent weeks, Trump officials have doubled down on this strategy, proposing a new regulation that would allow children to be detained indefinitely alongside their parents.
The average wait for an asylum hearing is currently two years.
“Internment camps have no place in the United States of America,” said Merkley. “We made this mistake during World War II, and to this day it remains one of the darkest stains upon our nation. We cannot allow ourselves to repeat this moral catastrophe. Congress needs to prevent this cruel and inhumane strategy from going forward — and I will do everything in my power to stop it.”
The No Internment Camps Act would ensure that no federal dollars are used for the operation or construction of family detention facilities, and create a one-year phase-out of currently operating family detention centers (Berks Family Residential Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania; Karnes Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas; and South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas).
It would also transfer the funds currently used to operate family detention centers to the Alternatives to Detention program, in order to re-establish the Family Case Management Program. Before it was disbanded by the Trump Administration in June 2017, FCMP allowed families to wait in community-based settings for their asylum hearings while having regular check-ins with a caseworker who speaks their native language. This program, according to a 2017 report by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, resulted in a 100 percent success rate of families appearing for their asylum hearings.
On June 3, Merkley set off a national firestorm when he went to the border to personally investigate the Administration’s child separation policy and was turned away from a children’s detention center in Brownsville, Texas. Merkley successfully pressured the Trump administration to back down from this policy of separating children from their parents, but the administration has been determined to keep pursuing its “handcuffs for all” strategy.
The No Internment Camps Act is endorsed by the Japanese American Citizens League, Human Rights Watch, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Women’s Refugee Commission, Anti-Defamation League, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, American Immigration Lawyers Association – Oregon Chapter, Human Rights First, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Karen Korematsu, the daughter of Fred T. Korematsu, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that challenged the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, war hysteria and xenophobia won over what obviously was morally and constitutionally wrong when in 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which put families and individuals like my father, Fred Korematsu, into American incarceration camps,” said Korematsu. “It is horrifying that our country is repeating those immoral acts and, as before, we are ripping children from their parents and guardians. The No Internment Camps Act seeks to remedy our past and current wrongs so hopefully we will stop repeating history.”