A group of lawyers have exposed the horrifying conditions at Border Patrol stations where ‘sick and traumatized’ children are allegedly left struggling with inadequate food, water and sanitation.
It’s a scene that is being repeated at other immigration facilities overwhelmed with too many migrant children and nowhere to put them.
‘This facility wasn’t even on our radar before we came down here,’ said law professor Warren Binford, a member of the team that interviewed dozens of children this week detained in Clint, Texas, about a half-hour drive from El Paso, Texas. Fifteen children had the flu, another 10 were quarantined.
A group of lawyers have exposed the horrifying conditions at Border Patrol stations where ‘sick and traumatized’ children are allegedly left struggling with inadequate food, water and sanitation (pictured an immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving as protesters block the street outside the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas)
Legal experts traveled to Border Patrol stations and spoke with detained children, leading to shocking revelations about the way they have been treated (file)
Among the Border Patrol stations that were visited was this one in Clint, Texas, where children were said to have been underfed, unwashed and deprived of clean clothing
At another Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, attorney Toby Gialluca said all the children she talked to last week were very sick with high fevers, coughing and wearing soiled clothes crusted with mucus and dirt after their long trip north.
‘Everyone is sick. Everyone. They’re using their clothes to wipe mucus off the children, wipe vomit off the children. Most of the little children are not fully clothed,’ she said.
Gialluca said migrant teens in McAllen told her they were offered frozen ham sandwiches and rotten food.
At both detention facilities, the children told attorneys that guards instructed girls as young as eight to care for the babies and toddlers.
Columbia Law School’s director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, Elora Mukherjee, who was among the legal team who visited the Border Patrol facility in Clint, told Jezebel that in 12 years of working in the field, ‘I have never seen conditions as degrading and inhumane as what I saw in Clint this week.
She added that ‘It is appalling, the conditions there. They are just unbelievable.’
The children were said to have been unwashed for days and even weeks, with many still wearing the dirty clothing they crossed the border in (file)
The children were said to have been given inadequate quantities of food, with teenage boys being served the same amount of food that a toddler was given (file)
Children also reported being told by guards that they were to look after even younger children, with one teenage girl being left to look after a baby for seven or eight days while the infant’s mother was in the hospital (file)
Mukherjee said that the children she spoke with told her that they were being denied sufficient quantities of food and that ‘there is no accommodation made for children’s different caloric needs’ and that all children, age notwithstanding, was given the same food rations.
‘So 17-year-old boys are getting the same food as one-year-old girls,’ she said. ‘Breastfeeding mothers—and I met with several—need more calories so that they can produce breastmilk. And they’re also not being given any accommodations. There’s not age-appropriate food for babies or toddlers.’
The children also said that the water they were provided with tasted like chlorine.
Mukherjee noted that the toilets the detained migrants had were not maintained or cleaned properly and that detainees didn’t have access to soap so that they could wash their hands.
The children she saw clearly hadn’t bathed for days and even weeks, either.
Central American migrants standing in line before entering a temporary shelter, after illegally crossing the border between Mexico and the US in May
Protesters hold an inflatable doll in the likeness of President Donald Trump outside of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on June 16 in Homestead, Florida
‘There is a stench that emanates from them,’ she said, adding that many of the children she saw were still wearing the dirty clothing they had on when they crossed the border and that they were ‘stained in bodily fluids—including urine for the young children, including mucus.’
Breastfeeding mothers, meanwhile, were seen with breast milk on their shirts.
Mukherjee said that the children had been held at the facility ‘for nearly a month and they’re locked in rooms, cages almost all day long,’ often without access to any activities or the ability to go outside.
Columbia Law School’s director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, Elora Mukherjee, who was among the legal team who visited the Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas
‘Three of the children who had been given opportunities to go outside told me that they’re supposed to be playing, but they can’t play because they need to conserve their energy,’ Mukherjee said, calling it ‘heartbreaking.’
Mukherjee said the children she spoke with were told by guards that they needed to look after the even younger children.
She recalled being told that a teenager was left to care for an unrelated infant for seven or eight days because the baby’s mother had to go to the hospital, and also hearing that an eight-year-old was told to take care of a four-year-old, even though the child was sick and unrelated to her.
‘I have been doing this work with hundreds of kids in immigration detention, but I’ve never seen children as traumatized as the ones who I’ve seen there,’ Mukherjee told Jezebel.
State and federal elected officials Friday demanded change about conditions at Clint, McAllen and other Border Patrol stations. There was plenty of angry fingerpointing as well.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott slammed Congress as ‘a group of reprobates’ for failing to provide adequate border security funding.
‘Every child who is not being taken care of adequately at the border, Congress is an accomplice to any harm they suffer,’ he said.
Oregon’s Sen. Jeff Merkley pushed the Department of Homeland Security to publish a remediation plan ‘to immediately end these abuses.’ He gave them a deadline of July 12, tweeting: ‘Children are being held in appalling and unacceptable conditions. Detained children are being left to care for each other – including, in one case, a two-year-old who was left with no diapers. @DHSgov needs to tell us what their plan is to fix this, NOW.’
Republican Congressman Will Hurd, whose district includes Clint, said the tragic conditions ‘further demonstrates the immediate need to reform asylum laws and provide supplemental funding to address the humanitarian crisis at our border.’
Migrants scramble across the Rio Bravo to surrender to the American authorities, on the US – Mexico border between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas on June 15
His Democratic counterpart, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of El Paso, said she has already asked the Customs and Border Protection commissioner for a ‘full accounting’ of the situation.
And Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand blamed the Trump administration’s mismanagement of the nation’s immigration system.
‘This is a dark moment for our country, and history will not be kind to the perpetrators of this cruelty,’ Gillibrand said. ‘All Americans should be alarmed and demand an end to this immediately.’
Border Patrol stations are designed to hold people for less than three days, but some children held in Clint and McAllen have been in there for weeks. Legally, migrants under 18 should be moved into Office of Refugee Resettlement care within 72 hours.
But federal officials have said they have hit a breaking point. That’s in part because over the last year, migrant children have been staying longer in federal custody than in the past, leading to a shortage of beds in facilities designed for longer-term stays.
The lawyers inspected the Border Patrol facilities as part of a Clinton-era legal agreement known as the Flores settlement that governs detention conditions for migrant children and families.
In an emailed statement Friday, Customs and Border Protection said the agency leverages its limited resources to provide ‘the best care possible to those in our custody, especially children.’
The statement said ‘our short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis.’
In addition, the agency said all allegations of civil rights abuses or mistreatment are taken seriously and investigated.
Earlier this week, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders urged Congress to pass a $4.6 billion emergency funding package that includes nearly $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children.
A migrant woman is seen her pulling a young girl across the Rio Bravo on June 15
He said Customs and Border Protection stations are holding 15,000 people – more than three times their maximum capacity of 4,000.
Reuters reported that conditions at Mexico’s immigration centers were also plummeting into squalor due to overcrowding as authorities stepped up the detention of migrants headed for the United States.
There, inmates were said to be languishing for weeks amid medical neglect, according to detainees, lawyers and rights groups.
Reuters spoke to more than a dozen recent detainees at the Siglo XXI detention center, the country’s largest. They described being held in the facility in Chiapas state on Mexico’s southern border for long periods without information about their cases.
The detainees reported severe overcrowding, sparse water and food, and limited healthcare.
Their accounts were supported by two lawyers representing 26 other inmates, as well as the migration ombudsman at Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission and reports from two migrant rights groups: Fray Matias de Cordova and the Human Rights Observation Mission for the Refugee and Humanitarian Crisis in Southeast Mexico, a collective of 24 aid groups.
Twelve of the detainees told Reuters they were held for at least three weeks in the center, meant to hold people for a maximum of 15 days until their cases are processed.
Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM), which runs Siglo XXI, did not respond to repeated requests for comment on conditions at the center.
Asked about the extended detentions, an INM official, who asked not to be identified, said migrant cases were complex and needed to be analyzed on an individual basis.