Immigration-rights advocates and a few Arkansas congressmen found rare common ground Thursday with their objection to a proposal to use two facilities in Arkansas to detain people arrested at the southern U.S. border.
Federal officials toured Little Rock Air Force Base on Thursday afternoon to determine its suitability, spokesman Airman 1st Class Kristine Gruwell said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford also appeared to confirm in an afternoon tweet Thursday the second location under consideration in Arkansas. The Republican representative said federal officials were at a "fish experiment station" in Kelso in Desha County to explore setting up an "immigrant detainment center."
"How is a tent city on a flood plain in SE Arkansas more appropriate than a tent city on the border?" he wrote.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement it is his understanding that the only sites in the state that are under review are the Air Force base and unused federal land in south Arkansas. He would not confirm whether the second site was in Kelso.
"It is up to [the Department of Health and Human Services] to answer questions about potential sites," Hutchinson said. "I am opposed to the use of any Arkansas facility that would be for children who are separated from their parents."
Previously the governor had said he wanted "to be helpful if we can help carry out the policy of keeping the families together."
The federal agency did not respond to emails asking if the Arkansas locations were being evaluated to hold unaccompanied children, families, or both. Earlier Thursday, the Pentagon said it will make space on military bases for as many as 20,000 unaccompanied children who were detained after crossing the border between the United States and Mexico.
A Pentagon memo to members of Congress, obtained by The Associated Press, said it has been asked to have the facilities available as early as July and through the end of the year.
It's not clear which bases will be used to house children. In addition to the base in Jacksonville, three bases in Texas were assessed as potential shelter locations: Dyess Air Force Base, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Fort Bliss.
The development came a day after President Donald Trump rescinded his administration's policy that effectively separated families caught crossing the border without authorizing documents. Instead, the order seeks to detain parents and children together by changing a legal precedent that says children must be released from custody to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers.
Trump's order "only partially fixed a policy of his own making," said Mireya Reith, executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition.
"It does nothing to address due process and assure that these families would have an opportunity to seek asylum status in this country," she said.
New detention facilities in Arkansas, coupled with a pending budget increase for the Department of Homeland Security, would feed the problem, not help it, Reith said.
Though media attention catapulted the border crisis to the national stage, parents have been separated from their children since at least January 2017, Reith said. That's when Trump enacted an executive order that, among other things, prioritized the prosecution of unlawful entry.
Reith said she was on her way Thursday afternoon to a protest at the state Capitol. A nationwide protest against Trump's immigration policies is set for June 30.
Two Republican congressmen from Arkansas also have said they are against any detention facility in Arkansas.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton "believes it's more appropriate that all persons should be kept at or near the border, not at remote locations," spokesman James Arnold said in an email. U.S. Rep. French Hill said in a statement, "These children belong with their parents at the border, not hundreds of miles away at the Little Rock Air Force Base or other locations in Arkansas."
Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in an email that children don't belong in jail, even if they are with their parents.
"Families who are seeking asylum from violence and daily horror shouldn't be shipped around the country to be detained indefinitely on Air Force bases in a move eerily reminiscent of the disgraceful concentration camps used to detain Japanese-Americans," she said.
That comparison is literal for the proposed location in Kelso. The land on which the fish experiment station sits was formerly home to the Rohwer internment camp, where some 8,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during World War II, according to the business agent with knowledge of the sale.
Andrew Wargo III said he has worked for Baxter Land Co. for nearly 50 years. After World War II, the internment camp land was broken into parts and sold. Baxter Land Co. bought 320 acres, Wargo said, which translates to a plot a half-mile wide and a mile long.
Later on, Wargo said the company sold the northern half and it ended up in possession of the U.S. Department of the Interior. That piece of land is where the fish experiment station sits, Wargo said.
That area lies at the bottom of a flood plain, Wargo said, which is why he's concerned about it possibly being used as a detention area. With a bout of rain, he said, people would be "wading around in 3-feet deep water, dodging the snakes."
Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.
Mireya Reith, executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, is shown in this file photo.
Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, is shown in this photo.
Metro on 06/22/2018