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Trump's "Next Cruel Plot": DHS Asks Pentagon to Build Border Detention Camps for Families

"Under Trump, each new day brings forward a new attack to immigrants' constitutional rights," says the ACLU

A woman sits with her son

A woman sits with her son at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Although a federal judge has required the government to reunite families separated under President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy—since his executive order repealing it did not address reunification—immigrant rights advocates are now raising alarms about "the Trump administration's next cruel plot," mandated by the president's order, to detain several thousand families together.

"This is the Trump administration's next cruel plot—to imprison children and parents in military bases and tent cities."
—ACLU

A Department of Defense (DoD) media statement that BuzzFeed's Jason Leopold posted to Twitter Wednesday evening details a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide housing for "an alien family population of up to 12,000" on U.S. military bases.

"If facilities are not available, DoD has been asked to identify available DoD land and construct semi-separate, soft-sided camp facilities capable of sheltering up to 4,000 people, at three separate locations," the statement said. "DHS prefers the facilities to be built in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, or California" for logistical purposes and their proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The ACLU responded in a pair of tweets, denouncing the administration's plans—which come as a direct result of the president's executive order that ended the family separation policy—and concluding, "Families do not belong in detention—period."

"Right now, three family detention centers—with a total of about 2,500 beds—are operating essentially at capacity," the Associated Press reports. The DoD statement said that at least 2,000 more beds will be needed within the next 45 days. While it's not yet clear where those beds will be, the AP pointed out that "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday that two bases had been identified to house migrants: Goodfellow Air Force Base near San Angelo, Texas, and Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas."

Before Trump's executive order last week, reports revealed the government was considering constructing "tent cities"—or what critics called "prison," "internment," or "concentration camps"—at military bases in Texas for unaccompanied migrant children. While both detention plans have provoked intense outrage and fueled condemnation of Trump's broader anti-immigrant agenda, family detention predates his administration.

"The best way to describe Donald Trump's current policy toward families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is this: He just went from being much harsher than Barack Obama to trying to get the courts to let him be as harsh as Obama was," Dara Lind wrote for Vox after Trump issued the executive order.

Trump's order "opens the door to him using a tactic Obama used in 2014: the wide-scale detention of immigrant families for as long as it took to complete their immigration cases and deport them," and the inevitable court battle over indefinite detention of asylum-seeking families, Lind notes, is "reminiscent, for those of us who've been following immigration for a while, of what the Obama administration did in 2014."

"The comparison to Obama's policies is especially relevant now that the Trump administration is seeking to keep families in immigration detention for weeks or months," Lind explained, because "the reason that Trump can't do that under a current judicial order is that the courts stepped in to stop Obama from doing it." However, until the courts weigh in, the DoD statement makes clear that the administration is forging ahead with plans to lock up thousands of parents and their children.

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