RSN Fundraising Banner
Inside a Texas Building Where the Government Is Holding Immigrant Children
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=50009"><span class="small">Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker</span></a>   
Tuesday, 25 June 2019 08:20

Chotiner writes: "Hundreds of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents or family members are being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas."

Some of the lawyers interviewing immigrant children held in Border Patrol detention facilities were so disturbed by what they saw that they have decided to talk to the media. (photo: Cedar Attanasio/AP)
Some of the lawyers interviewing immigrant children held in Border Patrol detention facilities were so disturbed by what they saw that they have decided to talk to the media. (photo: Cedar Attanasio/AP)


Inside a Texas Building Where the Government Is Holding Immigrant Children

By Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker

25 June 19

 

undreds of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents or family members are being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas. This week, a team of lawyers interviewed more than fifty children at one of those facilities, in Clint, Texas, in order to monitor government compliance with the Flores settlement, which mandates that children must be held in safe and sanitary conditions and moved out of Border Patrol custody without unnecessary delays. The conditions the lawyers found were shocking: flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of one another because of the lack of attention from guards. Some of them had been in the facility for weeks.

To discuss what the attorneys saw and heard, I spoke by phone with one of them, Warren Binford, a law professor at Willamette University and the director of its clinical-law program. She told me that, although Flores is an active court case, some of the lawyers were so disturbed by what they saw that they decided to talk to the media. We discussed the daily lives of the children in custody, the role that the guards are playing at the facility, and what should be done to unite many of the kids with their parents. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How many lawyers were in your party? And can you describe what happened when you arrived?

We had approximately ten lawyers, doctors, and interpreters in El Paso this past week. We did not plan to go to the Clint Facility, because it’s not a facility that historically receives children. It wasn’t even on our radar. It was at a facility that historically only had a maximum occupancy of a hundred and four, and it was an adult facility. So we were not expecting to go there, and then we saw the report, last week, that it appeared that children were being sent to Clint, so we decided to put four teams over there. The teams are one to two attorneys, or an attorney and an interpreter. The idea is that we would be interviewing one child at a time or one sibling group at a time.

How many interviews do you do in a day?

We do a screening interview first to see if the child’s most basic needs are being met. Is it warm enough? Do they have a place to sleep? How long have they been there? Are they being fed? And if it sounds like the basic needs are being met, then we don’t need to interview them longer. If, when we start to interview the child, they start to tell us things like they’re sleeping on the floor, they’re sick, nobody’s taking care of them, they’re hungry, then we do a more in-depth interview. And those interviews can take two hours or even longer. So it depends on what the children tell us. So I’d say, with a team of four attorneys, if you’re interviewing several groups, which we sometimes try to do, or if you interview older children who are trying to take care of younger children, then you are interviewing, let’s say, anywhere from ten to twenty children per day.

How many kids are at the facility right now, and do you have some sense of a breakdown of where they’re from?

When we arrived, on Monday, there were approximately three hundred and fifty children there. They were constantly receiving children, and they’re constantly picking up children and transferring them over to an O.R.R. [Office of Refugee Resettlement] site. So the number is fluid. We were so shocked by the number of children who were there, because it’s a facility that only has capacity for a hundred and four. And we were told that they had recently expanded the facility, but they did not give us a tour of it, and we legally don’t have the right to tour the facility.

We drove around afterward, and we discovered that there was a giant warehouse that they had put on the site. And it appears that that one warehouse has allegedly increased their capacity by an additional five hundred kids. When we talked to Border Patrol agents later that week, they confirmed that is the alleged expansion, and when we talked to children, one of the children described as many as three hundred children being in that room, in that warehouse, basically, at one point when he first arrived. There were no windows.

And so what we did then was we looked at the ages of the children, and we were shocked by just how many young children there were. There were over a hundred young children when we first arrived. And there were child-mothers who were also there, and so we started to pull the child-mothers and their babies, we started to make sure their needs were being met. We started to pull the youngest children to see who was taking care of them.

And then we started to pull the children who had been there the longest to find out just how long children are being kept there. Children described to us that they’ve been there for three weeks or longer. And so, immediately from that population that we were trying to triage, they were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts, the shirts were dirty. We saw breast milk on the shirts. There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.

So, in any event, the children told us that nobody’s taking care of them, so that basically the older children are trying to take care of the younger children. The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, “Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take of this little girl?” and they’ll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.

Many of the children reported sleeping on the concrete floor. They are being given army blankets, those wool-type blankets that are really harsh. Most of the children said they’re being given two blankets, one to put beneath them on the floor. Some of the children are describing just being given one blanket and having to decide whether to put it under them or over them, because there is air-conditioning at this facility. And so they’re having to make a choice about, Do I try to protect myself from the cement, or do I try to keep warm?

We weren’t originally planning to be there on Thursday, but one of the reasons why we came back for a fourth day is that some of the children, on Wednesday, told us that there was a lice infestation, as well as an influenza outbreak, at that facility, and so a number of the children are being taken into isolation rooms, quarantine areas where there’s nobody with them except for other sick children.

There was one child-mother who took her baby in there, because the baby got the flu. And then the mother, because she was in there caring for the child, got the flu as well. And so then she was there for a week, and they took the baby out and gave the baby to an unrelated child to try to take care of the child-mother’s baby. Sorry, I was trying to remember where I was going with that.

It’s fine.

Oh, I know what I wanted to tell you. This is important. So, on Wednesday, we received reports from children of a lice outbreak in one of the cells where there were about twenty-five children, and what they told us is that six of the children were found to have lice. And so 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. And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb. 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.

Where are these kids from, and where are most of their parents in most cases?

Almost every child that we interviewed had a parent or relative in the United States. Many of them had parents in the United States and were coming here to be with their parents. Some of the children that we interviewed had been separated from their parents. Most of them were separated from other adult relatives. Almost all the children came across with an adult family member and were separated from them by the Border Patrol. Some of them were separated from their parents themselves; other times it was a grandmother or aunt or an older sibling. We don’t know where the parents are being kept.

They are primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. There are a few from Ecuador, one from Peru.

What is the attitude of the guards to your team?

They are on our side. Multiple guards told us while we were there that they are on our side and they want us to be successful, because the children don’t belong there, and the children need to be picked up and put in appropriate places for children. They want us to be successful.

So things like the comb and the punishment, that’s a rare story? Most of the guards care about the welfare of the kids to some extent?

I’m not going to say that most of the guards care about the kids, because we didn’t talk to most of the guards, but I do believe in the inherent goodness of people. And when I’ve talked to guards, they seemed caring, and they had guards who, when the children were there for these very lengthy interviews, would bring the children lunches in the conference room. They’re terrible lunches. That’s how some of the guards are, but the fact is that some of the guards are bad people, and there’s no question about it.

There are some other stories that we’ve heard from the children, such as that one of the guards has an older child, who’s seventeen, serve as the unofficial guard inside the room. So he tells the kids what to do, and he tries to keep the room neat and straighten up the mattresses and everything. Now, the guards reward him with extra food, and when a seven-year-old saw that this older boy was getting extra food by being helpful, he asked if he could help clean up the room and keep it neat so that he, too, could get extra food. And the seventeen-year-old chastised him for this, and then when an older sibling tried to stand up for his little brother, the guard intervened and reprimanded both the little boy and his older brother.

And so you’ve got a guard who is manipulating these kids, very similar to what we heard about in the concentration camps. I’m not going and calling these concentration camps, although I know that some people do.

I am curious, at just a human level, about you being at these camps this week, while much of the country, or a bunch of politicians, seemed outraged most of all by the fact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the phrase “concentration camp.”

Well, we’re not watching the news. I saw a tweet. The thing is that all of our capacity is taken up. We’re waking up at six o’clock in the morning, and we’re on the road shortly after seven to go to our different sites and meet with these kids. And we’re meeting with them until five o’clock, sometimes—it didn’t happen this week, but at other site visits we’re staying until eight o’clock because there are so many kids to interview. And then what happens is we go back and we debrief. We did not eat until eleven o’clock on Wednesday night, and then we’re going to bed, waking up a few hours later and doing it all over again. There’s no capacity for processing what’s going on in the real world. It is all about these kids and the horrific conditions they’re in.

Was there anything that you think was specifically illegal?

I just got back from this facility where laws were being broken right and left. There is a judgment in this case that says that children are supposed to be treated a certain way when they are in government custody. All of these children are in government custody, and those very basic standards are being violated.

For example, in Flores, which is the class-action suit that governs the standards for the care of these children that are in U.S. custody, it clearly says that children are supposed to be kept in safe and sanitary conditions. And there is nothing sanitary about the conditions they are in. And they are not safe, because they are getting sick, and they are not being adequately supervised by the Border Patrol officers. This is a violation of the case law. In addition to that, these children are not supposed to be in a Border Patrol facility any longer than they absolutely have to, and in no event are they supposed to be there for more than seventy-two hours. And many of them were there for three and a half weeks.

And, in addition to that, they are not supposed to be breaking up families. In the Ms. L case that was brought last year, when children were being routinely separated by their parents, that judge ruled that these children need to be kept with their parents, that family integrity is a constitutional right and is being violated. There were children at this facility who came across with parents and were separated from parents. There were other children at the facility who came across with other adult family members. We met almost no children who came across unaccompanied. The United States is taking children away from their family unit and reclassifying them as unaccompanied children. But they were not unaccompanied children. And some of them were separated from their parents.

Do you have some hope or sense that courts will step in promptly?

That is the hope. I will be honest with you: I am not authorized to talk about the Flores case. I am not one of the attorneys litigating that case. I am there as an expert monitoring compliance. It is a very active case, and the lead attorneys in that case are very concerned about what we found on the site visit. Even the little things—when they are transporting the babies, transporting the toddlers and the preschoolers, they are not putting them in infant seats or booster seats, and they are driving along Texas highways, all of which require children to be properly placed in the vehicle. It is so frustrating to hear the current Administration talking about the rule of law when they flout the rule of law right and left.

I know you have been doing this for about three years. For people you know who have been doing it longer, to what degree is this the worst they’ve ever seen, and to what degree is this an aspect of our immigration policy that has been going on for a really long time, and there is just much more of a spotlight on it now?

That’s a very good question. Things have always been horrendous in Border Patrol facilities, especially for children. That’s why Flores requires that the children be moved out of there as expeditiously as possible. So we’ve always been concerned about the conditions in Border Patrol facilities. What we’re concerned about now is the number of children who are there, the young ages of the children there, and the length of time that they’re being left there.

Almost all of these children have family members, including parents, in the United States, who are able to and want to take care of their children. All we need to do is to get these children to their families, and we know that almost all of them will be well cared for, and it will cost the U.S. taxpayer no money to care for these children, because they will be cared for by their parents.

Now, when I say that—of course there are certain inherent costs in running a society that will be incurred, but as far as direct care, at the facilities that we have the numbers for, such as the large facilities like Homestead, it costs seven hundred and seventy-five dollars a day to care for these kids. There is no reason for the American taxpayer to have to pay seven hundred and seventy-five dollars a day to care for children who have families who love them, and are here in the United States, and want to take care of them. There are multiple kids that we could put on a plane this week to be with their parents in the United States. Many of them have never spoken with their parents since they got there.

Email This Page

e-max.it: your social media marketing partner
 

Comments   

A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

 
+2 # Texas Aggie 2019-06-25 13:58
While it may seem that some of the guards are humans, if they were truly human, they either wouldn't be working there or they would be blowing whistles all over the place. They would be posting pictures on Facebook. They would be organizing aid for the kids. They would be allowing visitors to bring food, sanitary supplies, and clothes for the kids. In short, they would act like human beings. What does it mean that not being deliberately mean to the kids wins you a gold star for being a human?
 
 
0 # coberly 2019-06-25 14:08
Wait! Is that the Horst Wessel song I hear?
 
 
+1 # wilhelmscream 2019-06-25 16:13
There’s a HB being voted on tonight; it will be DOA in the U.S. Senate [bcuz], Mitch McConnell HAS NO BALLS to put it up for a vote, on the senate floor!!