ICE has released 12 of the 16 infants under a year old that were detained with their mothers at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX, according to CBS. Last week, immigration advocates sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, asking them to “intervene immediately.” Advocates say the rural facility had limited baby food, dirty water, and insufficient medical care.
“Every mother I spoke to said that her child was sick in some way,” Katy Murdza, an activist with the American Immigration Council’s Dilley Pro Bono Project told CBS. “It’s just really hard seeing all of these very small babies in a detention setting.”
Many infants lost weight after arriving at the detention center because the Dilley facility has only one type of formula available, and it needs to be special requested, which caused delays in accessing it, said Murdza. Mothers weren’t given bottled water to mix with the formula, forcing infants to drink the tap water, which she described as potentially unsafe.
“Our staff doesn’t even drink the water here,” Murdza said. “It smells like chlorine.”
ICE disputes this characterization. The agency said that mothers and babies have access to “comprehensive medical care,” including “registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, licensed mental health providers, mid-level providers that include a physician’s assistant and nurse practitioner, a physician, dental care, and access to 24-hour emergency care.”
“That’s not corroborated by parents who spend time at Dilley,” Colleen Kraft, the former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CBS. “They’ll go to the clinic and be told they need to come back later.”
These are dangerous conditions for infants, who can quickly go from healthy to deathly ill.
Currently, not much is known about what is happening to the remaining four babies or why they were not released. There is apparently another baby under the age of one being held at the Texas Karnes center.
Multiple advocacy groups complained about the infants held in detention. Three groups, the American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee. The committee plans to “hold long overdue hearings on conditions behind the doors of immigration detention centers,” according to Rep. Zoe Lofgren.
“Conditions in immigration detention are not appropriate places for children, period,” Lofgren told CBS.
It’s unusual that so many infants would be held in ICE custody, advocates say. Murdza told CBS that in the past, ICE has abided by an “unspoken rule” that mothers with young babies seeking asylum would not be detained.
“It’s very disturbing and ludicrous that ICE is saying we have to make an assessment as to whether a five-month-old is a danger or flight risk,” Katie Shepherd, the National Advocacy Counsel for the Immigration Justice Campaign at the American Immigration Council, told CBS.
ICE spokespeople said the increase in detained infants was due to an increase in border crossings.
“As the number of family units crossing the border into the U.S. has increased, so too has the frequency of those with younger children, including infants,” and ICE official wrote in a statement.
Last week, reports emerged that a Honduran woman had delivered a stillborn baby in ICE custody. The woman reportedly went into premature labor at six months pregnant. In December, two children died in ICE custody, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin. Alonzo was diagnosed with a cold after spending a week in detention, while Maquin apparently died of dehydration and exhaustion after about a day in custody.
In the wake of these deaths, CBP said it would perform “secondary medical checks” on all children in custody.