WILLISTON – Childcare in Vermont has long been a struggle for families with two working parents, especially in the summer months when schools are out and summer camps slots fill up before spring break is over. For parents who cannot afford nannies or full time programs, the decision of what to do with their children from June to August can be a source of stress. But this summer a new option has opened up with seemingly unlimited spots available, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opens up its first Child Detention Fun Camp in Williston, VT.
“Our Child Detention Centers are more like summer camps anyway,” said Matthew Albence, the head of enforcement and removal operations for ICE. “Since so many kids are having so much fun in our play cages, or ‘playges’ as we like to call them, we figured why not offer our services to other irresponsible parents who made the foolish decision to endanger their children’s lives by not being wealthy enough to afford full time camps all summer. People think we’re somehow working against immigrant families for some sort of racist reason, but we want people to know that we feel exactly the same way about immigrant families as we do about poor American families.”
Participation in the program is strong, partially due to many Vermont parents coming in for an “informational session” about the camps, and then being ushered out of the building without their children. When parents have protested, they were assured that they would most likely see their children again at the end of the summer. Other parents were advised that the best way to see their children again would be to sign up with DCF to be a foster family and request temporary custody through that program.
The Winooski was able to tour the new facility, past the front offices with the “Stay Cool With ICE This Summer” posters adorning the walls, and see first-hand how the camp is being run. The children are kept in the Playges, where they are able to play games (Capture the Rat, Security Says, Dodge Baton, etc.), do arts and crafts (drawing pictures of their parents so as not to forget their faces, mashed potato sculptures, etc.), and even participate in educational activities (spelling bees, using tally marks to count off the number of days they have been at camp, etc.). The one thing that seems to be lacking is much outdoor time, but officials say they are working on a large Habitrail system that would allow the children to run through clear tubes in and out of the building without ever leaving their Playges.
“The goal,” Albence says, “is to create a place where anyone would want to send their child, and I think we’ve done it. Would I send my child there? Well, that’s not the point.”