To the editor:
Our government is again making a mess, with human lives in the balance. Nobody, including those who want a secure southern border, wants children separated from their genuine parents, wants people to not get medical care, or not have decent sanitation, or be in overcrowded and unsafe conditions. The use of private contractors for immigrant detention is questionable and has not provided safe and humane detention. Our government is detaining many of those with asylum or refugee claims because those released into the general USA population generally do not show up for their hearings and then become illegal immigrants dispersed in our population.
The United States has numerous large military bases that have the needed space, housing, logistics and medical care for large numbers of detainees. In the Army I served at three such bases: Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Fort Lewis in Washington, and Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Detain immigrants with pending legal claims on such bases as a better way than the present situation.
For genuine family units move some of the troops out of base housing and into tents, to provide decent family housing. Provide shelter, security, food, medical care, water, sanitation and personal supplies at the same good level that enlisted soldiers receive. Security in the immediate detention areas can be light and humane; people should generally not be in cells or cages, as the military base itself is a secure location. Provide separate and safe areas for single men, single boys, single women and girls, and families. Provide ongoing English education and other education, access to sunlight and exercise, and access to computers, the Internet, email, lawyers, media, and community organizations. Detainees are not prisoners and have not yet been convicted of any crime.
Finally, the federal government has an obligation to create or allocate the needed legal resources so that anyone and everyone detained by the United States receives appropriate legal process quickly, resulting in their either receiving asylum or refugee status or their being humanely deported to their home countries. Even improved and humane detention should not be indefinite.
Martin L. Buchanan