Children Are Being Abused And Tortured In Immigration Detention Centers

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
JIM YOUNG/Contributor/Getty

Trigger warning: abuse of children

We are America. We are great and we are good. We tell ourselves this with fireworks and flags on the 4th of July, with Mom and God and apple pie. We tell ourselves this when we sing that the Star Spangled Banner yet waves o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave, that I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free, sweet land of liberty. We slap it on the bumpers of our cars. We wrap ourselves in our flag and tell ourselves that we are the greatest country in the world. Except we’re not looking hard enough. Except we torture children.

I’m not talking about atrocities committed in far-off lands, in countries where our troops deploy and die. We torture children in detention centers in Virginia, home of America’s first permanent English settlement, birthplace of presidents. We torture children in Texas, home of the Alamo, where the stars at night are big and bright. I’m not talking about the forced separation of migrant parent and child, which the United Nations, according to Britain’s The Independent, suggests “may amount to torture.” Which Amnesty International calls “nothing short of torture.”

No, I’m talking about concrete torture. Of children. In America, we torture children.

An ACLU Report, released in May 2018, details the numerous ways in which we torture migrant children apprehended at the US-Mexico border. The organization has filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Los Angeles alleging that “the stations and facilities housing children are failing to meet the basic standards for hygiene, food, sleeping conditions and medical care, which are outlined in a 1997 court case called the Flores settlement,” according to the Huffington Post. The ACLU notes that the Flores settlement also guarantees, “that the government is to treat all children in custody ‘with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.’”

Take a moment. Go look at the faces of your children. Brush your hands over their small heads as they run by. What are they doing? Watching TV? Eating? Playing outside? Sitting in your lap? Nursing? Really look at them. Close your eyes. Hold their images in your head.

Now imagine.

According to the ACLU document, Customs and Border patrol agents (CBP) “regularly use force on children when such force is not necessary or needed.” Boys are thrown to the ground, have their heads smashed with boots. They are kicked and shoved and handcuffed so tightly they bleed. A child was run over by a truck, denied immediate medical care, and later diagnosed with a broken leg. They are dragged along the ground. They are punched in the face. They are tased for fun.

They call them names, threaten to kill them. They threaten to rape them or give them to other prisoners to rape.

The worst is yet to come.

Once captured, many are placed in what’s called the hielera, translated as The Icebox. It’s so cold there that kids come out pale and shaking, unable to walk, with cracked lips and blue fingers and toes. They are not provided blankets. Some children are tossed in wet from swimming the Rio Grande.

Pregnant minors were tossed in a cell, forbidden from speaking, and taunted that they came to this country to “contaminate it with their babies.” A girl in the room writes, “A baby boy peed his pants, the officers made her take his pants off and threw them in the trash and left him only with his diaper on. It was very sick and the little boy got sick and a cough …”

In 2014, during a July 2014 site visit to the Rio Grande Valley Sector Border Patrol detention sites, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) officialsfound one station with “no trash receptacles . . . present in the hold rooms” and “body fluids on the walls and floors, along with used sanitary napkins and used toilet paper containing feces on the floors.” Toilets overflowed. A girl who gave birth to a premature, four pound baby was forced back into a crowded detention center against doctor’s orders. Child reported no bedding at all, inadequate bedding. A kid with a broken arm was forced to sleep on a concrete floor.

Food is spoiled or frozen. The ACLU reports that “Some children reported not receiving any food for several days at a time or receiving only juice and crackers for several days. Other children described agents deliberately withholding food.” Kids in hold rooms cried from hunger. The Huffington Post reports that one mother says, “We had to drink water from the toilet to keep hydrated.” Another girl writes, “We starved the first day because one of our cellmates made a comment to the BP [border patrol] people and they punished us by not feeding us.” At least three children reported “undrinkable” water and water that tasted like chlorine.

Basic medical care is denied. A girl having an asthma attack was derided, told she was faking it, and “threatened with punishment if she was lying.” When she did finally get medical care, they took her medication from her. A girl who had previous surgery for an ovarian cyst was denied pain medication and extra sanitary pads. She was forced to wear blood-soaked pants. Children vomited, were hospitalized for dehydration, then had their medication confiscated. Pregnant minors — including a 14-year-old eight months along — were not given medical exams or care.

Then there’s the suit that was filed in October 2017 on behalf of a 17-year-old held, along with around 30 other unaccompanied children (UAC) at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center. They say they were “beaten, left naked in cells, and strapped to chairs by guards,” according to The New York Daily News. There were cells, no privacy to use the bathroom, verbal abuse — like being called a “Mexican monkey,” something children apprehended at the border also report frequently — and physical punishment. The suit says that, “the mental health of the children, some of whom have suffered trauma in their native countries or on the road to the U.S., is not cared for despite diagnoses and suicide attempts.”

A lawyer for the children said that nearly all of them had been doped with powerful psychotropic drugs — that they were used as “a chemical straightjacket.” This despite risk of diabetes and increased suicidiaity.

This is America. This is your country, and this is happening right now.

Somewhere, a child is being served food frozen through.

Somewhere, a child is being kicked in the head by an ICE agent. Or hit by a Border Patrol car. Then denied medical care.

Somewhere, a child is being told, in Spanish, “Right now, we close the door, we rape you and we fuck you.”

Somewhere, a child is shivering in a hielera with no blanket, no beddding.

This is America. This is your America.

The land of the free and the home of the brave.

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