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Human Rights International

In the United States of America: ‘Migrant Children Are Locked In Their Cells And Cages All Day Long’

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A chaotic scene of sickness and filth is unfolding in an overcrowded border station in Clint, Texas, where hundreds of young people who have recently crossed the border are being held, according to lawyers who visited the facility this week, The New York Times said in a report.

Some of the children have been there for nearly a month, as the report exposes the working of the government agencies and treatment given to the migrants.

Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk.

Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.

“There is a stench,” said Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, one of the lawyers who visited the facility. “The overwhelming majority of children have not bathed since they crossed the border.”

In May, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security warned of “dangerous overcrowding” among adult migrants housed at the border processing centre in El Paso, with up to 900 migrants being held at a facility designed for 125. In some cases, cells designed for 35 people were holding 155 people.

“Border Patrol agents told us some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks,” the inspector general’s office said in its report, which noted that some detainees were observed standing on toilets in the cells “to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets.”

The reports of unsafe and unsanitary conditions at Clint and elsewhere came days after government lawyers in court argued that they should not have to provide soap or toothbrushes to children under the legal settlement that gave Mukherjee and her colleagues access to the facility in Clint.

Mukherjee said the conditions in Clint were the worst she had seen in any facility in her 12-year career. “So many children are sick, they have the flu, and they’re not being properly treated,” she said.

Mukherjee said children were being overseen by guards for Customs and Border Protection, which declined to comment for this story. She and her colleagues observed the guards wearing full uniforms — including weapons — as well as face masks to protect themselves from the unsanitary conditions.

The infants were either children of minor parents, who were also detained, or had been separated from adult family members with whom they had crossed the border. The separated children were now alone, being cared for by other young detainees.

“The children are locked in their cells and cages nearly all day long,” Mukherjee said. “A few of the kids said they had some opportunities to go outside and play, but they said they can’t bring themselves to play because they are trying to stay alive in there.”

Some sick children were being quarantined in the facility. The lawyers were allowed to speak to the children by phone, but their requests to meet with them in person and observe the conditions they were being held in were denied.

The children told the lawyers they were given the same meals every day — instant oats for breakfast, instant noodles for lunch, a frozen burrito for dinner, along with a few cookies and juice packets — which many said was not enough. “Nearly every child I spoke with said that they were hungry,” Mukherjee said.

Another group of lawyers conducting inspections under the same federal court settlement said they discovered similar conditions earlier this month at six other facilities in Texas.

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