Why the latest abuses of children by the CBP came to light

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.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Behold how a nation that boasts…

    Just before I got to that line, it registered peripherally as “behold a nation of beasts”, which seems appropriate until you realize that beasts take far better care of their young.

  2. says

    I’ve never been able to understand how people do things like this. Can’t they look at those kids and wonder “I wonder how I’d feel if that was my kid?” It tells me how unimaginative authoritarian goons have to be.

  3. says

    Marcus @#2

    Can’t they look at those kids and wonder “I wonder how I’d feel if that was my kid?” It tells me how unimaginative authoritarian goons have to be.

    Some people are inherently unable to feel empathy. I have a suspicion that people overseeing these concentration camps have a larger than average share of sociopaths among the workers, because otherwise I really don’t get how the workers can possibly abuse kids who are in their care. Alternatively: they are indoctrinated to believe that immigrants are evil, other, disgusting and so on, in which case it would get much easier to abuse them. Still, I do wonder how much indoctrination would be necessary in order to convince a normal person that it’s good to abuse a child; adults, sure, it’s easy to convince people to hate adults who are from some other place, but most humans ought to feel that children are innocent, that they must be cared for regardless of who their parents are.

  4. Golgafrinchan Captain says

    I think they’re just really good at othering. Not even another group of people, but not even human.

    This is so fucking disgusting. I think anyone who oversaw or worked in one of these locations. and didn’t report it, should be put in jail. There will be lifelong impacts for the children subjected to these conditions.


  5. says

    I went to Google Books to look for references to Concentration Camps in older books. Here’s a reference (from 1902 in South Africa): https://books.google.com/books?id=9vxKAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Just a part:

    Para. 1.—Having been entrusted by the Imperial Government with the task of inquiring into the condition of the concentration camps in South Africa, with the view of ascertaining (I) in what way charitable funds collected in England could best be used to improve the conditions of camp life; (2) whether in our judgment alterations in the general organisation of the camps were desirable; and (3) whether their geographical position should be changed, our first task was to draw up a list of the chief points to which on arrival at the camps our inquiry should be directed.

    These are as follows:—

    1. Water supply, including arrangements for washing clothes and


    2. Sanitation and disposal of refuse.

    Yup. AOC was right. Those are Concentration Camps.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  6. Allison says

    I don’t think we have to assume any pathology on the part of the people running the Concentration Camps. The people who operated the Camps in Nazi Germany weren’t (for the most part) sadists or sociopaths. They were mostly just normal citizens of a society where the dominant narrative was that the people they were imprisoning (and exterminating) were subhuman threats to their way of life.

    And they were trained to see things that way. Even if at first they balked at some of the stuff they had to do, there was a lot of pressure to go along with what everyone else was doing. And once participating in atrocities became routine, they didn’t really think about it. It was just a job.

    Actually, basic training in the military works the same way. They have to take people who, for the most part, would shrink from killing someone who hadn’t done anything to them and convert them into people who will shoot and bomb and kill on command. Cf. Abu Ghraib.

    I think that applies here. Start with the racism and xenophobia that US society is soaked in, and add the pervasive narrative that these people are an alien horde threating our way of life, and then offer people a steady job on the condition that they not show any sympathy for these “aliens”, and you get people who won’t have any qualms about how the people in their custody are treated. After all, they’re “just following orders.”

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    Allison @6: Exactly. It’s far too easy, and dangerous to say “those people are monsters, and not like us at all”. The horror is that they are us.

  8. TGAP Dad says

    I’ve understood since the news first reports of the unnecessary cruelty of CPB/ICE that this was the feature, not the bug. Shaun King is the first media figure to recognize and report this. And media reports of this cruelty are also welcome, as the (de)base(d) see this as the system working properly. Look back in history at how the native Americans, African captives, Irish, Chinese, Japanese (WW II), were all described with demeaning language in our nations past. Such characterizations weaken public opposition, and empower the base to exert ever more cruelty. Look at how the Nazi regime spoke of Jews preceding WW II. Note the progression of ever more demeaning terminology employed by the right, as a means of setting the narrative. First they’re “undocumented immigrants,” then “illegal immigrants,” followed by just “immigrants”. Then the looming existential threat posed by “invasion,” organized into huge “caravans” full of rapists, drug mules, murders, gang leaders, etc. The media are willing conscripts in the war of narrative, happily (or lazily) fulfilling their roles to spread misinformation and mischaracterization.
    Why the FUCK does nobody in the “mainstream” media ever recognize this, and refuse to play along???

  9. Allison says

    TGAP Dad says @9:

    Why the FUCK does nobody in the “mainstream” media ever recognize this, and refuse to play along???

    Because the Mainstream Media (MSM) are part of the establishment now.

    They can’t/won’t report on things in a way that would actually challenge those in power because they have been co-opted by the power structure. The power structure feeds them titilating stories (so the reporters don’t have to actually go out looking for stories), but only so long as they don’t publish anything that the power structure doesn’t want known. And the corporations that run the MSM are all part of the same oligarchy that the people who run those camps are part of, so the bosses of the media have a vested interest in not rocking the boat.

    Go over to the neighbor blog “stderr” to hear about cases where major news outlets (e.g., the New York Times) check with those in power before publishing anything they might not like and then suppress the story if the powerful don’t want it told.

    This is why the “alternate” news media have gotten as far as they have — because people who are paying attention realize that the MSM only tell the stories that the power structure allows to be told.

  10. Jenora Feuer says

    I still say one of the best and scariest depictions of the Nazi concentration camps was in an otherwise mostly lighthearted comic book called ‘Desert Peach’. In the one issue that touched on this, the people running the camps weren’t sadists or sociopaths. No… they were accountants. All they cared about was making sure the numbers in the books lined up, and the fact that those numbers represented actual lives was consciously ignored as much as possible.

    Sadists and sociopaths were still there, of course, but to industrialize the process, you needed accountants who could just ignore what wasn’t explicitly in the bookkeeping as well.

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