Greenwich Time (Sunday)
No easy answers to immigration questions
As important as the U.S.-Mexico border debate is for national politics, it’s rare to see Connecticut play a major role in the discussion. But that was the scenario recently when state officials said they had been asked by the Biden administration about using the shuttered Connecticut Juvenile Training School as a shelter for migrant children who are now being housed in overcrowded facilities in Texas.
When assessing whether this would be a good idea, it’s important to separate facts from everything else. The history of the building, for example, should not be a determining factor. “A building doesn’t care for kids. People do,” Vannessa Dorantes, commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families, said in response to a public outcry over the possibility.
The history of the detention center includes its closure under former Gov. Dannel Malloy at the behest of mental health experts and human rights advocates. But the facility only opened in 2001, and is not nearly as foreboding as other potential holding areas.
It’s also important to differentiate what is happening at the border now with what went on in recent years. The Trump administration drew widespread condemnation over its family separation policy, where parents who presented themselves at the border were taken away from their children and held separately, often without any records being kept. In some cases officials were unable to reunite families at all, making the situation a grotesque violation of human rights and dignity.
That isn’t what’s happening now. The question is what to do about minors who come to the border unattended, and there isn’t a good answer. Sending them back where they came from can put them in danger, as could releasing them of their own recognizance in this country. So they are typically held until their cases can be processed and relatives located, which can take time. Those facilities are often overcrowded, leading to further complaints from observers.
That’s where the search for better options comes from. Connecticut has been approached in the past about housing migrants, but officials rightly said Southbury Training School, with its outdated buildings, is unfit for such a use. The Juvenile Training School in Middletown could be a better option, as long as it is treated as a shelter and not a prison.
Youth advocates are rightfully worried about reopening a facility with such a notorious history, and assurances would be necessary to see that it would only be used as currently envisioned. There is nothing to justify returning the training school to service as a youth prison.
There are questions at the border that defy easy answers. The last administration’s crackdown on immigration and admittance of refugees was selfdefeating and cruel, and few believe a bigger wall is going to solve anything. At the same time, immigration laws exist for a reason, and we’re not equipped as a country to simply let in anyone who wants to cross the border.
Those are issues Congress needs to answer, and immigration reform should be a top priority. In Connecticut, the question is how we can play a part. The shuttered Middletown facility could be a part of that answer.