Over 200 migrant children were removed from conditions where they didn’t have adequate food, water, or sanitation
After reports surfaced last week of absolutely deplorable conditions at a Border Patrol station in Texas housing 255 children, the government announced Monday that the vast majority of the children had been moved — although they didn’t say where. It is the latest in a long list of horrifying details to emerge about the treatment of migrant children by the United States government, even after the Flores settlement set standards for how we care for unaccompanied minors at the border.
Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar reported the news on Twitter on Monday afternoon, along with a copy of the letter that she had sent to Border Patrol last week.
The Clint Border Patrol station in El Paso County, Texas, was visited by a group of Human Rights Watch attorneys last week, who interviewed 60 of the children to determine whether Border Patrol was following the Flores agreement and properly caring for the children. Their visit quickly revealed nightmare conditions for hundreds of children, who did not have enough food, water, or sanitation – and who were often charged with caring for children younger than them. Fifteen had the flu, and ten others were quarantined.
“Many of them are sleeping on concrete floors, including infants, toddlers, preschoolers,” said Warren Binford of Willamette University, a law professor who was among the group that inspected the facility. “They are being given nothing but instant meals, Kool-Aid and cookies — many of them are sick. We are hearing that many of them are not sleeping. Almost all of them are incredibly sad and being traumatized. Many of them have not been given a shower for weeks. Many of them are not being allowed to brush their teeth except for maybe once every 10 days. They have no access to soap. It’s incredibly unsanitary conditions, and we’re very worried about the children’s health.”
The children, who were falling asleep during interviews from being so sleep-deprived, told the lawyers that they had been at the facilities for months — a clear violation of the Flores agreement that states children will not be kept at government facilities for more than 72 hours. It was also not clear, in many cases, where the parents of these children were located.
“In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention, I have never heard of this level of inhumanity,” said Holly Cooper, who co-directs University of California, Davis’ Immigration Law Clinic and represents detained youth.
Perhaps most disturbingly, children are made to take care of younger children.
The Associated Press reported:
“Three girls told attorneys they were trying to take care of [a] 2-year-old boy, who had wet his pants and had no diaper and was wearing a mucus-smeared shirt when the legal team encountered him.
“A Border Patrol agent came in our room with a 2-year-old boy and asked us, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy?’ Another girl said she would take care of him, but she lost interest after a few hours and so I started taking care of him yesterday,” one of the girls said in an interview with attorneys.”
In another instance, an 8-year-old was taking care of a 4-year-old, who had matted hair but who was refusing to take a rarely offered shower. Many are caring for kids who don’t have proper clothing or diapers, or who aren’t talking at all because of trauma.
None of this would have reached the public, and the government would not have acted, if the Human Rights Watch attorneys did not investigate the situation. It’s unknown if there are more border stations in the same dire state, and more children in danger.
A recent story in The Atlantic adds that all the children, especially the ones caring for babies they’ve just met, will likely face a lifetime dealing with trauma and processing what they’ve endured — issues that are closely associated with everything from mental and physical health issues, to issues assimilating into society.
At the same time, donations for the children are piling up unused at the border, while Trump is cutting services for kids like English lessons and recreation.
Even though all but 30 children have already been moved from the border station, it’s not clear where they have gone, or what the conditions are like there. All we know is that as migrants continue to flood in seeking asylum, and as the Trump Administration tries to deter them through harsh, inhumane conditions once they arrive, children will suffer at the hands of our government.