For Detained Migrant Kids: Lice, No Toothpaste or Soap

Attorney: 'Worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2019 2:15 PM CDT
Reports Paint Grim Picture for Detained Migrant Children
Migrant children wait for their father on the Mexican side of the Rio Bravo before crossing the US - Mexico border to surrender to the American authorities in El Paso, Saturday, June 15, 2019. Their parents had gone ahead to scout a shallower crossing for the children.   (AP Photo/ Photo/Christian Torres)

A series of reports in recent days describes miserable conditions for migrant children being held at a Border Patrol facility near El Paso, Texas. The reports are based on the accounts of attorneys who visited the facility in Clint to check on the conditions of the unaccompanied minors, ranging in age from infants to teenagers. "It's the worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections," one of the attorneys, Warren Binford, tells the PBS News Hour. The AP says that following the reports, the government pulled hundreds of children from the facility; about 30 remained as of Monday. The details of what apparently led to that:

  • The stench: The children have lice, and no soap or toothpaste, and toddlers have no diapers, reports the New York Times, which describes "a chaotic scene of sickness and filth." Children as young as 7 have been entrusted with caring for infants who are not related to them. “There is a stench,” says Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, another of the visiting attorneys. “The overwhelming majority of children have not bathed since they crossed the border.”

  • The inspections: They were conducted as part of a decades-old legal agreement known as the Flores settlement that governs the detention of migrant children and families. The AP pegged the number of children at Clint at 250, but other estimates range up to 350. The children are mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and they were either separated from their parents at the border or they arrived there unaccompanied.
  • One anecdote: Attorney Binford also spoke to the New Yorker, and he described a report of six children in a cell of 25 having lice. "They were given a lice shampoo, and the other children were given two combs and told to share those two combs, two lice combs, and brush their hair with the same combs, which is something you never do with a lice outbreak," he says. One of the combs went missing, however, and "Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. ... So you had a whole cell full of kids who had beds and mats at one point, not for everybody but for most of them, who were forced to sleep on the cement."
  • Jarring comparison: Lucio Sevier, a doctor, compared conditions for children at another facility, in McAllen, Texas, to those in "torture facilities," per ABC News. She examined 39 children after a flu outbreak sickened five infants, describing "extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food."
  • Justice Department: Last week, a Justice Department attorney argued before the federal Ninth Circuit panel that the government is not obligated to provide things like toothbrushes or beds, despite the above-mentioned Flores settlement, which requires "safe and sanitary conditions," reports Courthouse News. “Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete, and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?” US Circuit Judge William Fletcher asked Sarah Fabian. “I find that inconceivable that the government would say that that is safe and sanitary.” A ruling is pending.
  • Blame game: President Trump and VP Mike Pence each blamed Democrats in separate interviews over the weekend for the conditions, reports Vox. “If the Democrats would change the asylum laws and the loopholes, which they refuse to do because they think it’s good politics, everything would be solved immediately," said Trump. "But they refuse to do it."
(The bodies of a young woman, a toddler, and two babies were found along the border.)

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