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'Torture Facilities': Eyewitnesses Describe Poor Conditions At Texas Detention Centers For Migrant Children47:06
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A legal team, that interviewed about 60 children at the Clint Border Patrol station in Texas, says young migrants being held there are experiencing neglect and mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government. (Cedar Attanasio/AP)
A legal team, that interviewed about 60 children at the Clint Border Patrol station in Texas, says young migrants being held there are experiencing neglect and mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government. (Cedar Attanasio/AP)

Update: In the hours following air, it was announced Tuesday afternoon that John Sanders, the country’s top border security official, will resign as acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection next month.

With Meghna Chakrabarti

The U.S. government has removed hundreds of migrant children from a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, following reports of unsanitary living conditions and inadequate food and water.

Last week, a pediatrician visited a Texas detention facility for migrant children and says what she saw could be compared to "torture facilities."

We hear firsthand accounts of the conditions at some Border Patrol detention centers.

Guests

Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who wrote up a medical declaration after visiting the Ursula detention center in McAllen, Texas. She assessed 39 children detained at the Ursula facility, which is the largest Border Patrol detention center in the U.S.

Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and part of the legal team that visited the Border Control facility in Clint, Texas, last week. She's also representing Constantin Mutu, the youngest child known to be separated from his parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nick Miroff, national security correspondent who covers immigration enforcement, drug trafficking and the Department of Homeland Security for The Washington Post. (@NickMiroff)

Statement from Customs and Border Control:

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) leverages our limited resources to provide the best care possible to those in our custody, especially children.  As DHS and CBP leadership have noted numerous times, our short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis."

"CBP works closely with our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services to transfer unaccompanied children to their custody as soon as placement is identified, and as quickly and expeditiously as possible to ensure proper care. All allegations of civil rights abuses or mistreatment in CBP detention are taken seriously and investigated to the fullest extent possible." This statement was provided on June 24th, 2019.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to On Point’s request for comment.

Interview Highlights

Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier on what she saw when she visited the Ursula detention center in McAllen, Texas:  “What impacted me the most was the inability of the mothers to wash their infant’s formula bottles ... if a parent told me that in my exam room, I'd be very concerned about their conditions at home, and consider calling CPS to get them some support. That was what was most alarming to me … they rinse [the formula bottles] with water that's supposed to be used for drinking, in a bathroom sink that does not have running water, and they have no soap.”

Elora Mukherjee on the conditions at the Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas:
"...The conditions were the most degrading and inhumane conditions I have ever seen and I have been representing asylum-seeking children and their families in detention facilitates since 2007. This is unacceptable and should not be happening in America."

Dr. Sevier on why the conditions of Ursula detention center compare to torture facilities: “I believe there are a lot of ways that you can torture a human and [demoralize] their spirit: by not allowing them to keep clean, keeping them uncomfortably cold for weeks, keeping the lights on 24 hours in a warehouse, keeping them inside of a cage for weeks. Yes, I believe all of that can really get into a person's psyche and torture them emotionally, which is no less than physical torture in my opinion.”

When asked if she saw signs of trauma in the children she examined, Dr. Sevier says:
“I think all of the children had signs of trauma. Every single one. I see kids all day long and an 18-month old should not want you to examine them. And they should scream … and go to their mother. And a 2-year-old should be a little bit fearful, and then willing to talk. They were all inappropriately subdued. I mean, they clearly were very fearful of me, but completely let me do my entire physical exam without any fight, which was entirely inappropriate for their age and stage of behavior."

Mukherjee on what should be done: "Money alone won't solve the problem. We need to treat people with basic human dignity and empathy and recognize that the overwhelming majority of these children are asylum seekers and are eligible for special immigrant juvenile status. They're fleeing the worst traumas imaginable and we deserve to treat them with basic human decency."

Dr. Sevier on what should be done:  “They could appoint a physician at some of these facilities, who is there specifically for the well-being of the children. I believe that any physician would see that these children need soap. The bottles need to be washed. I'm not asking for perfection. But, there are a lot of very small, non-expensive things that can be done to make the conditions better in these facilities.”

From The Reading List

The Associated Press: "Government moves migrant kids after AP exposes bad treatment"— "The U.S. government has removed most of the children from a remote Border Patrol station in Texas following reports that more than 300 children were detained there, caring for each other with inadequate food, water and sanitation.

Just 30 children remained at the facility near El Paso Monday, said Rep. Veronica Escobar after her office was briefed on the situation by an official with Customs and Border Protection.

Attorneys who visited the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, last week said older children were trying to take care of infants and toddlers, The Associated Press first reported Thursday. They described a 4-year-old with matted hair who had gone without a shower for days, and hungry, inconsolable children struggling to soothe one another. Some had been locked for three weeks inside the facility, where 15 children were sick with the flu and another 10 were in medical quarantine.

“How is it possible that you both were unaware of the inhumane conditions for children, especially tender-age children at the Clint Station?” asked Escobar in a letter sent Friday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner John Sanders and U.S. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost.

She asked to be informed by the end of this week what steps they’re taking to end “these humanitarian abuses.”

Lawmakers from both parties decried the situation last week."

The Texas Tribune: "Lawyer: Inside an immigrant detention center in South Texas, "basic hygiene just doesn't exist" — "Immigrants held in a McAllen-area U.S. Customs and Border Patrol processing center for migrants — the largest such center in America — are living in overcrowded spaces and sometimes are forced to sleep outside a building where the water “tastes like bleach,” according to an attorney who recently interviewed some of the migrants.

"It was so bad that the mothers would save any bottled water they could get and use that to mix the baby formula,” attorney Toby Gialluca told The Texas Tribune on Saturday.

But when she recalls the conditions described to her by the immigrants she interviewed at McAllen’s Centralized Processing Center, Gialluca said she goes back to one thing.

“Their eyes. I'm haunted by their eyes,” Gialluca said.

Gialluca and a slew of other lawyers have been meeting with children and young mothers at facilities across the state this month as pro bono attorneys. At the McAllen center, Gialluca said, everyone she spoke with said they sought out Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande so they could request asylum.

Gialluca said the migrants, all from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, told her they aren’t receiving proper medical care and children don’t have enough clean clothes. Unable to clean themselves, young mothers reported wiping their children’s runny noses or vomit with their own clothing, Gialluca said. There aren’t sufficient cups or baby bottles, so many are reused or shared.

“Basic hygiene just doesn't exist there,” Gialluca said. "It’s a health crisis ... a manufactured health crisis," she said."

The New York Times: "‘There Is a Stench’: No Soap and Overcrowding in Detention Centers for Migrant Children" — "A chaotic scene of sickness and filth is unfolding in an overcrowded border station in Clint, Tex., where hundreds of young people who have recently crossed the border are being held, according to lawyers who visited the facility this week. Some of the children have been there for nearly a month.

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."

Conditions at Customs and Border Protection facilities along the border have been an issue of increasing concern as officials warn that the recent large influx of migrant families has driven many of the facilities well past their capacities. The border station in Clint is only one of those with problems.

In May, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security warned of “dangerous overcrowding” among adult migrants housed at the border processing center 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."

Grace Tatter produced this show for broadcast.

This program aired on June 25, 2019.

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