According to a coalition of legal and immigration advocacy groups, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is still detaining migrant children—some as young as five months old—and are delaying legally-required medical care and proper follow-up care.
In a letter published on Thursday and addressed to Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General and Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the groups allege that at least nine infants under the age of one are being detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. One of these children has been detained for at least 20 days, the organizations say.
The American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the Catholic Immigration Network, Inc. allege in the letter that ICE, and specifically the Dilley facility, have “repeatedly” demonstrated an inability to “meet basic standards of care for minor noncitizens in its custody.” They specifically express concern over lacking and delayed specialized care for the infants, and lack of “appropriate follow-up treatment.”
The group’s letter goes on to state that that mothers at the Dilley facility have witnessed changes to their babies’ health, including weight loss, feeding habits, illness, and behavioral and sleep challenges. They argue that these issues can’t easily be addressed because the Dilley facility is an hour drive from San Antonio, the nearest major city center with such specialized medical services.
In addition to this letter, the groups published an additional letter by the Physicians for Human Rights addressed to Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen which expresses concern over reports of infant detainment and demands that the government release the families for “the inherent harms and health risks of child detention.”
Last year, two migrant children died while in immigration custody, including one who fell ill while in custody with his father. Following the deaths, Customs and Border Protection announced secondary medical checks on all children, and a review of child detention policies with a focus on children younger than 10.
“We urge your office to intervene immediately on behalf of this uniquely vulnerable population to demand the release of these families from custody to permit them to continue fighting their cases outside of detention,” the letter reads. They also ask DHS to review procedures on infant detainment, records documenting infants’ health issues while in detention, and available medical services at Dilley and other family detention centers.
The letters were first reported on by CBS News. We’ve reached out to the House Committee on Homeland Security chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, his Senate counterpart Sen. Ron Johnson, and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Sen. Gary Peters for comment on the letter, and to ask if they plan to investigate the allegations. We will update with any response we receive.