The US government has removed most of the children from a remote border patrol station in Texas, following reports that more than 300 children were detained there, caring for each other with inadequate food, water and sanitation.
I've been heartbroken and horrified to read the news of children at the border being detained in appalling conditions.
No soap, no toothbrushes, no beds.
Not enough food, babies being forced to take care of babies, everyone sick.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 23, 2019
Attorneys who visited the border patrol station in Clint, Texas, last week said older children were trying to take care of infants and toddlers. They described a four-year-old with matted hair who had gone without a shower for days and hungry, inconsolable children struggling to soothe one another. Some had been locked for three weeks inside the facility, where 15 children were sick with the flu and another 10 were in medical quarantine.
“How is it possible that you both were unaware of the inhumane conditions for children, especially tender-age children at the Clint Station?” asked Escobar in a letter to CBP acting commissioner John Sanders and border patrol chief Carla Provost. She asked to be informed by the end of this week what steps they’re taking to end “these humanitarian abuses”.
Although it was unclear where all the children held at Clint had been moved, Escobar said some were sent to another facility on the north side of El Paso called Border Patrol Station 1. Escobar said it’s a temporary site with roll-out mattresses, showers, medical facilities and air conditioning. But Clara Long, an attorney who interviewed children at Border Patrol Station 1 last week, said conditions were not necessarily better there.
“One boy I spoke with said his family didn’t get mattresses or blankets for the first two nights and he and his mom came down with a fever,” Long, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian. “He said there were no toothbrushes, and it was very, very cold.”
Some of the children Human Rights Watch spoke with were sleeping on concrete floors and eating the same unpalatable and unhealthy food for close to a month: instant oatmeal, instant soup and a previously-frozen burrito. Many children, including some who are much too young to take care of themselves, were found in jail-like border facilities for weeks at a time without contact with family members, regular access to showers, clean clothes, toothbrushes, or proper beds. Children as young as 2 or 3 were separated from adult caretakers without any provisions for their care besides the unrelated older children also being held in detention.
Elora Mukherjee, a lawyer who visited the facility, told CBS News: “They were wearing the same dirty clothing they crossed the border with. It is degrading and inhumane and shouldn’t be happening in America.”
The separation of migrant children from their parents began in 2018 under a new “zero tolerance” policy from President Donald Trump’s administration. It saw nearly 3,000 children separated before it was suspended. Under the policy, announced in May 2018, those who cross the border illegally were to be prosecuted – which required their children to be taken into care.
Yet the US Government Accountability Office has reported that neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Department of Health and Human Services were aware of the policy before it was publicly announced, and so were not prepared for the increase in children being kept imprisoned.
In late May, acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kevin McAleenan told reporters that the agency had 2,350 unaccompanied children in its custody awaiting placement in detention centers and shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Facilities are overcrowded and five immigrant children have died since late last year after being detained by Customs and Border Protection. 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.
Government rules call for children to be held by the border patrol in their short-term stations for no longer than 72 hours before they are transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses migrant youth in facilities around the country through its Office of Refugee Resettlement.