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“Normal” is Relative: Normal Is Familial Reunion in a Detainment Center

shutterstock_1036368061Times are changing, identities are being questioned and confronted, and people are getting uncomfortable. With protests demanding justice, COVID-19 cases spiking, and states such as Texas “pausing” it’s reopening, people are beginning to get restless and just want things to “get back to normal”. But what is this “normal” you speak of? For some, it is going back to a 9-5 job and getting to visit their children and grandchildren on the weekends, but for others, it means being reunited with their families and children in safe and healthy conditions after prolonged detainment in the US immigration jails.

In the summers of 2019, video footage was released of the unsanitary and overcrowding of migrant detention centers managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.[1] Reports indicated that children were “held for weeks in deplorable conditions, without access to soap, clean water, showers, clean clothing, toilets, toothbrushes, adequate nutrition, or adequate sleep. The children, including infants and expectant mothers, are dirty, cold, hungry, and sleep-deprived.” [2]

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The 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which arose out of the Flores v. Reno, 507 U.S. 1439 (1993)  is what governs the standards for detaining child migrants, but with conditions such as these, with minor improvements of said facilities in over a year and continuous overcrowding, one can only imagine the risk of exposure and infection of COVID-19.

As such, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee’s ordered on June 26, 2020, that children be released from the detention centers in the care of a listed “designated sponsors” if they have spent more than 20 days at three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania.[3] However, for many of the families, there are no “designated sponsors” and thus, many children remain in the detainment institutions.

As of June 29, 2020, it has been reported that “[m]ore than 2,500 people in ICE custody have tested positive for COVID-19. The agency says it has released at least 900 people considered to have heightened medical risk and reduced the populations at its three family detention centers.”[4] But is that enough? It is times like these where we need to assess what is “normal” to us and how “normal” can be code for “privilege” and “stability”.

[1] Madeleine Joung, What Is Happening at Migrant Detention Centers? Here’s What to Know, TIME (Jul. 12, 2019), https://time.com/5623148/migrant-detention-centers-conditions/.

[2] Artemis Moshtaghian and Eliott C. McLaughlin, Federal judge orders prompt mediation to determine if detention facilities and child migrants are safe, CNN (Jul. 2, 2019) https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/30/us/child-migrant-detention-center-doctors-federal-judge/index.html.[3] Miriam Jordan, U.S. Must Release Children From Family Detention Centers, Judge Rules, New York Times (Jun.26, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/us/immigrant-children-detention-centers.html.

[4] Nomaan Merchant, Judge: US must free migrant children from family detention, ABC News (Jun. 26, 2020), https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/judge-us-free-migrant-children-detained-parents-71485845.

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Eryn L. Pollard, is a second-year law student at Notre Dame Law School and is the secretary of the Black Law Students Association