Conditions for Children Detained at the Border are Still Horrific

Photo: Christ Chavez/Getty

Detention centers at the border have been under increasing scrutiny in past weeks, with lawyers and advocates telling stories of appalling conditions for the children and families held there. A new report from the Associated Press—published as the House of Representatives voted to fund an emergency border bill that will allow these operations at the border to continue—with testimony again confirms the inhumane conditions.

One woman who filed testimony in federal court is a 17-year-old mother who is being kept with her infant in a McAllen, TX detention center. Her interview describes sleeping on the ground, with little access to hygiene and being too afraid to ask for a doctor for her sick baby.

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From the AP:

Every five days, she is given a shower and can brush her teeth. Her baby boy already had a fever and cough but she didn’t dare ask to see a doctor, for fear it would prolong their detention at the Ursula facility in McAllen, Texas. She said she has been there nearly three weeks.

“He feels frozen to the touch,” the girl said. “We are all so sad to be held in a place like this.”

The Trump administration argued earlier this month that it didn’t need to provide soap or toothbrushes to children in detention.

The declaration by this woman and others were filed in a federal court in Los Angeles. The court oversees a settlement from the 1990s that is supposed to govern the conditions for migrant children in detention.

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“It is obvious that the dignity and well-being of children is not even an afterthought in the design of the center,” Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who visited the McAllen detention facility in June, said in the court filing.

Last week, lawyers had to force the government to hospitalize four children at the McAllen facility who were in urgent need of medical care.

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The court declarations also addressed a facility in Clint, TX.

From the AP:

A 12-year-old girl from Ecuador said she was being held there with her 8- and 4-year-old sisters after they were separated from their grandmother. The guards told the girls it could take as long as two weeks for them to be reunited with their mother in Massachusetts.

“Every night my sisters keep asking me, ‘When will our mommy come get us?’” she said in her declaration. “I don’t know what to tell them. It’s very hard for all of us to be here.”

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Other children described not getting enough to eat.

“The food here is not enough,” a 14-year-old Guatemalan girl said in a declaration. “The food is not good, and I feel hungry.”

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Since conditions at these facilities have been brought to light, immigrant advocates have pushed for an emergency order to require inspections of the detention centers, provide access to medical care, and allow the release of children to their parents or close relatives.

From AP:

The advocates have pressed the U.S. government for years to comply with the 1997 settlement agreement that set minimum standards for the detention of child migrants and the process for their release. A judge previously found the government kept children detained too long and in harsh conditions, and ordered an independent monitor to report on facilities.

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The government argued against this demand by saying it would “impose extensive obligations.”

Amid the renewed attention on conditions at these facilities, hundreds of children have been moved to supposedly more humane locations, but many still remain in the same horrific conditions. At least six children have died after spending time in ICE or CBP custody since the end of last year.

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The situation at Customs and Border Protection has also been in free-fall as outrage about detention conditions has grown. CBP acting commissioner John Sanders resigned, and was replaced by former Border Patrol head Mark Morgan.

Meanwhile, Trump and his friends have maintained that everything happening on the border is the Democrats’ fault.

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“That’s like I’ve been saying—if they fixed the laws, you wouldn’t have that,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the photo of a father and daughter dead in the Rio Grande that was published by the AP earlier this week. “[If we fixed the laws], those people, they wouldn’t be coming up, they wouldn’t be trying.”

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