The recent revelations of the conditions under which migrant families and children are being detained brought the issue once again into the spotlight and has created a furor. One thing that puzzled me was why the Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection agency, normally so secretive that they try to prevent reporters and even congresspeople from entering their facilities, allowed the team of lawyers and doctors into the facility, knowing that the conditions were so appalling that even given three weeks notice, what minor improvements they were able to make were never going to bring the conditions up to normal standards of decency.
It appears that they had no choice. According to a newsletter that I get from Reveal, the reporting arm of the investigative outfit Center for Investigative Reporting, the Flores ruling that set guidelines for the treatment of detainees that the CBP is accused of violating also granted a small group of lawyers access to government facilities where children are held. Usually, the team reports its findings to the court and those are released weeks or months later. But what the team saw this last time so shocked them that they went public immediately.
This is what they saw: Older children taking care of toddlers. Flu quarantines and lice infestations. Children in soiled clothes with no regular access to showers. A premature baby wrapped in a dirty towel.
Here are some of the interviews with lawyers and advocates who visited the facilities:
- WNYC Studios’ “The Takeaway” interviewed lawyer Elora Mukherjee: “When I interview children in detention, I try to sit close to them because we’re talking about such sensitive and traumatic subjects. But with some of the children, I had trouble sitting near them because of the stench.”
- Warren Binford, a law professor at Willamette University, told The New Yorker: “(The children) told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once.”
- Frye told HuffPost that she had spoken to a teenage mother being held in McAllen with her premature, one-month-old baby. The infant hadn’t received any medical attention, Frye said. “I looked at that baby and said ‘Who does this to babies?’ They were being sadistically ignored.”
Behold how a nation that boasts of being founded on Christian values actually behaves!
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez created a right-wing uproar by calling these facilities ‘concentration camps’ but Shaun King writes that that is the accurate name for them.
“YES, WE DO have concentration camps,” began the stinging critique of the Trump administration’s immigration detention facilities. It was written earlier this week by the editorial board of the Salt Lake Tribune, in the reliably conservative state of Utah.
Andrea Pitzer, author of the definitive book on the global history of concentration camps, agrees. So do people who were once forced to live in another era’s concentration camps.
Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier was granted access to a Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, and wrote in her report about it that “the conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities.” They “felt worse than jail.” The kids she examined were forced to endure “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.”
Over the past year, seven children have died in U.S. immigration custody or shortly after being released. These deaths occurred after 10 years during which not a single child died. Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, told The Atlantic that the stench in some detention facilities is so horrible that it was hard for her to even have a focused conversation with the children. Babies didn’t have diapers. Young kids were forced to care for infants who they didn’t even know. Clothes were covered in snot and excrement. Baby bottles were used without being properly cleaned and sterilized. All of these conditions have created environments where sicknesses and diseases spread like wildfire. In one facility, lice spread from child to child, and when the children were forced to share “lice combs,” and one somehow got lost, dozens of kids were punished by having their bedding removed. They had to sleep on the cold concrete floor.
This is why we say that cruelty is the point. It’s not an accident. These systems are cruel by design. The idea is to make it miserable to deter people from coming to the U.S. These detention centers are reckless and dangerous.
While the administration may have hoped that news of the cruel conditions would filter back through the grapevine to the countries of origin of the migrants without the public here becoming aware of them, the monitoring team going public so quickly and so loudly with their outrage seems to have scuttled that plan and resulted in calls for the immediate redress of this injustice. This forced congress to do something though of course Republicans and the so-called Democratic ‘moderates’ were not willing to go as far as the progressives demanded.