The conditions at Border Patrol facilities holding migrant children are far worse than anyone realized. Reports have emerged in the past week that detail dirty, hungry children who are often forced to sleep on concrete floors. Infants are being cared for by children only a few years their elder. Diapers are not being used. Lice combs are being shared. Mothers do not have the ability to wash their children’s bottles. A medical declaration obtained by ABC News compared the conditions to those of “torture facilities.”
President Trump made clear on Sunday that he sees the issue as a political game. A day after he informed Democrats that he was giving them two weeks to essentially solve the border crisis before going ahead with previously announced mass deportations, Trump essentially dismissed the plight of migrant children while speaking with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. “This has been happening long before I got there,” the president said when pressed about the conditions. “We’ve ended [family] separation. Under President Obama, you had separation. I was the one who ended it.”
“We’re doing a fantastic job, under the circumstances,” he added.
None of this is true.
Families attempting to cross the border under President Obama were separated only in rare circumstances, such as when there was concern for the safety of the child, or when the adult could not be confirmed to be the child’s parent. Last spring, however, the Trump administration instituted a “zero-tolerance policy,” holding that every adult crossing the border would be prosecuted, and thus separated from their child or children. A leaked Department of Homeland Security memo revealed that family separation was an intended consequence of the policy, with authorities hoping it would deter other families from attempting to cross the border.
WATCH: Trump says administration doing a "fantastic job' on the border.
Chuck Todd: “Why let the political debate hurt these children?”
President Trump: “If the Democrats would change the asylum laws … everything would be solved immediately. But they refuse” pic.twitter.com/fU1EeDbQW0
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) June 23, 2019
Though Trump signed an executive order to suspend his own administration’s zero-tolerance policy, children are still being separated from their parents if authorities deem the parent poses a risk to the child. Such separations are on the rise, often for reasons as petty as the parent having a traffic violation on their record. “In the last few months these types of separations have risen drastically,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt recently told the Houston Chronicle. “The government is trying to drive a truck through what was supposed to be a very narrow exception.”
As for the “fantastic job” the administration is doing caring for migrant children, several recent reports indicate otherwise. On Friday, the Associated Press and the New York Times reported on the conditions at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, which was recently visited by a group of lawyers investigating whether the facility was abiding by the Flores settlement, a 1997 agreement holding that migrant children must be held in safe and sanitary conditions. This was not the case in Clint.
According to the Times, children as young as seven and eight “wearing clothes caked with snot and tears,” are being entrusted to care for infants. “Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants,” the report continues. “Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk.” The children are hungry, visibly “filthy,” and locked in cages for almost the entire day. “There is a stench,” Elora Mukherjee, one of the lawyers who visited the facility, told the Times. “The overwhelming majority of children have not bathed since they crossed the border.”
“In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention, I have never heard of this level of inhumanity,” Holly Cooper, a co-director of the University of California, Davis’ Immigration Law Clinic, told the AP.
A day after the severity of the conditions were revealed, the New Yorker published an interview with Willamette University law professor Warren Binford, who helped interview children at the facility. The conditions she detailed were horrifying.
You should read this whole New Yorker piece about the conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas, but if you can't read the whole thing, at least read this paragraph: https://t.co/xWwHYvIMjb pic.twitter.com/Iujo3Pi2av
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 22, 2019
On Sunday, ABC News obtained a medical declaration of the physical state of the children, some less than three months old, at the station in Clint and another in McAllen, Texas. Physician Dolly Lucio Sevier wrote that the “conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities.”
Lucio Sevier went on to write that migrant children at the McAllen facility were forced to endure “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food,” and that all of the children she saw showed evidence of trauma.
In the eyes of the Trump administration, none of this violates the “safe and sanitary” requirement of the Flores settlement. Last week, Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian tried to defend in court the administration’s inability to provide bedding or basic hygienic products to migrant children. The judges hearing the case were perplexed. “You’re really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn’t a question of ‘safe and sanitary’ conditions?” Judge Marsha Berzon asked. “You’re not really going to say that, right?”