“An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing if you do it [through] the civil courts or if you do it through the criminal courts. But it’s the criminal courts is what is giving Donald Trump the ability to truly violate the human rights of the people coming to our country, who — no one surrenders their human rights. And so, doing it through the civil courts means you won’t need these awful detention facilities.”
— Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Booker, who supports decriminalizing the act of crossing the border, claimed that migrant detention facilities would not be needed if unauthorized entry to the United States was treated as a civil violation. He did not elaborate, and his website says only that he would be “ending private detention facilities,” without giving details.
Booker mischaracterized how the immigration system works. Those who are apprehended for the crime of crossing the border without authorization are held at jails, not migrant detention facilities. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts with many local jails to hold border-crossers while their cases are pending. The Essex County jail in Newark, for example, where Booker was mayor before being a senator, provides significant jail space to ICE under contract.
The migrants who are placed in detention facilities are all facing civil cases, whether they are in facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection or migrant detention centers overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services.