Amid widespread outrage over his immigration policy that tore families apart, President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to keep migrant families together. But where will the Trump administration house migrant families going forward? His executive order doesn't specify which detention facilities or where they will be in the United States.
It does, however, point to a federal branch instructed with maintaining such federal detention centers. According to a White House release of the order, "The Secretary of Defense shall take all legally available measures to provide to the Secretary, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law."
Under such a rule, the order states, "The [Defense] Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities." It might be possible that such detention centers will be maintained on military bases.
The order comes a week after various media outlets reported that Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy had forcibly removed thousands of children from their parents at the border. Children were sent to detention facilities where they shared rooms and followed strictly monitored routines. Traumatized by being ripped from their families, children have been found crying for their mothers and fathers inconsolably.
Prior to Trump's order, the conditions of a detention center in southern Texas had been so grim and ghastly that one reporter, MSNBC's correspondent Jacob Soboroff, said that the children had been "effectively" incarcerated by the Trump administration. Now, even with his executive order signed, it's hard to say if circumstances will improve for families seeking asylum.
It's also unclear which companies the Department of Defense will contact to maintain or even construct new detention centers. In previous cases, Southwest Key Programs had been contracted to turn a Walmart into a detention center in southern Texas. But so far, information about such future federal prisons under the Defense Department is unfortunately scant.
But the damage has already been done, observers say. With the Trump administration's practice of splintering families, experts on child psychological health say that children have been irreparably affected by being taken away from their parental figures without warning.
For example, from San Francisco's University of California's Early Trauma Treatment Network, Alicia Lieberman told Time magazine, "Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. When that bond is broken through long and unexpected separations with no set timeline for reunion, children respond at the deepest physiological and emotional levels."
Lieberman added, "Their fear triggers a flood of stress hormones that disrupt neural circuits in the brain, create high levels of anxiety, make them more susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and damage their capacity to manage their emotions, trust people, and focus their attention on age-appropriate activities."
If the Defense Department contracts companies delving in the detention center-building industry, it could result in a massive profit to such enterprises. To consider just how jaw-dropping the economic benefit would be, consider a Bloomberg report that says the aforementioned Southwest Key Programs earned $458 million in the fiscal year of 2018 for creating and maintaining detention cells for immigrants.
In addition to being an oppressive practice, Trump's previous family separation policy was a costly one, too. According to the Administration for Children and Families, a Department of Health and Human Services agency, Trump's administration was already planning to spend a whopping $943 million on detaining immigrant children.
Under the new executive order signed on Wednesday, this budget could change as now the immigrant families will be incarcerated and prosecuted together. But the location of such centers remains vague in the president's order. Because of this reason, concerned and worried Americans are left with more questions than answers.