The Trump administration’s scramble to find detention space for thousands of undocumented immigrant families while parents await prosecution began well before images of young children in cages went viral last week, reports USA Today. This month, the administration took the extraordinary step of sending 1,600 adult immigration detainees and asylum seekers to the federal prison system, despite persistent staff shortages throughout the 122-facility network that have forced teachers, food service workers, secretaries and nurses to fill in as guards.
Hundreds of detainees have been scattered as far as Oregon and Washington state, where some Bureau of Prisons staffers and government officials say the rules that govern the detention of convicted felons do not necessarily apply to those awaiting court hearings on non-criminal matters, including asylum. Union officials report communications breakdowns due to language barriers and a lack of translators. The influx is also taxing medical staffers who are caring both for the convicted felons and the detainee population without additional personnel. “We just don’t have the resources to keep up,” said John Kostelnick of the prison workers union in Victorville, Ca., where about 1,000 detainees are being housed. “All of this happened with very little notice. I fear this could blow up.” At a prison complex in Sheridan, Or., Lisa Hay, the state’s chief federal public defender, has raised questions about the conditions. Hay said the detainees were triple bunked in cells measuring about 75 square feet; subjected to “strip searches” after meetings with attorneys; were confined to their cells for 22 hours per day and longer in some cases; and had limited access to telephones.