A traumatic and dangerous situation is unfolding for some 250 infants, children and teens locked up for up to 27 days without adequate food, water and sanitation, according to a legal team that interviewed dozens of children at a Border Patrol station in Texas.
The attorneys who recently visited the facility near El Paso told The Associated Press that three girls, ages 10 to 15, said they had been taking turns watching over a sick 2-year-old boy because there was no one else to look after him.
When the lawyers saw the boy, he wasn’t wearing a diaper and had wet his pants, and his shirt was smeared in mucus. They said at least 15 children at the facility had the flu, and some were kept in medical quarantine.
The children told lawyers that they were fed uncooked frozen food or rice and had gone weeks without bathing or a clean change of clothes at the facility in Clint, in the desert scrubland some 25 miles southeast of El Paso.
“In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention I have never heard of this level of inhumanity,” said Holly Cooper, an attorney who represents detained youth. “Seeing our country at this crucible moment where we have forsaken children and failed to see them as human is hopefully a wake up for this country to move toward change.”
The lawyers visited the facility in Clint because they are involved in a legal settlement known as the Flores agreement that governs detention conditions for migrant children and families. The lawyers negotiated access to the facility with officials, and say Border Patrol knew the dates of their visit three weeks in advance.
Many of the more than 60 children the lawyers interviewed had arrived alone at the U.S.-Mexico border, but some had been separated from adult caregivers such as aunts and uncles, the attorneys said. Government rules call for the children to be held by the Border Patrol for no longer than 72 hours before they are transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services, which houses migrant youth in facilities around the country.
The allegations about the conditions inside the El Paso facility are the latest complaints about mistreatment of immigrants at a time when record numbers of migrant families from Central America have been arriving at the border.
Government facilities are overcrowded and five immigrant children have died since late last year after being detained by the U.S. government. A teenage mother with a premature baby was found last week in a Texas Border Patrol processing center after being held for nine days by the government.
In an interview this week with the AP, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders acknowledged that children need better medical care and a place to recover from their illnesses. He urged Congress to pass a $4.6 billion emergency funding package includes nearly $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children.
He said that the Border Patrol is holding 15,000 people, and the agency considers 4,000 to be at capacity.
“The death of a child is always a terrible thing, but here is a situation where, because there is not enough funding … they can’t move the people out of our custody,” Sanders said.
The Trump administration has been scrambling to find new space to hold immigrants as it faces withering criticism from Democrats that it’s violating the human rights of migrant children by keeping so many of them detained.