June 21, 2019
‘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.”
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.
“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.”
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Friday announced the deployment of 1,000 new National Guard troops to the border to help respond to the continuing new arrivals, which the governor said have amounted to more than 45,000 people from 52 countries over the past three weeks.
“The crisis at our southern border is unlike anything we’ve witnessed before and has put an enormous strain on the existing resources we have in place,” Mr. Abbott said, adding, “Congress is a group of reprobates for not addressing the crisis on our border.
The number of border crossings appears to have slowed in recent weeks, possibly as a result of a crackdown by the Mexican government under pressure from President Trump, but the numbers remain high compared to recent years. The overcrowding crisis has been unfolding invisibly, with journalists and lawyers offered little access to fenced-off border facilities.
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 Ms. Mukherjee and her colleagues access to the facility in Clint. The result of a lawsuit that was first settled in 1997, the settlement set the standards for the detention, treatment and release of migrant minors taken into federal immigration custody.
Ms. Mukherjee is part of a team of lawyers who has for years under the settlement been allowed to inspect government facilities where migrant children are detained. She and her colleagues traveled to Clint this week after learning that border officials had begun detaining minors who had recently crossed the border there.
She 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. The Associated Press, which first reported on conditions at the facility earlier this week, found that it was housing three infants, all with teen mothers, along with a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds and a 3-year-old. It said there were dozens more children under the age of 12.
Ms. 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.
Together, the group of six lawyers met with 60 children in Clint this week who ranged from 5 months to 17 years old. 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,” Ms. 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.”
When the lawyers arrived, federal officials said that more than 350 children were detained at the facility. The officials did not disclose the facility’s capacity but said the population had exceeded it. By the time the lawyers left on Wednesday night, border officials told them that about 200 of the children had been transferred elsewhere but did not say where they had been sent.
“That’s what’s keeping me up at night,” Ms. Mukherjee said.
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,” Ms. 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. At the Border Patrol’s Central Processing Center in McAllen, Tex. — often known as “Ursula” — the lawyers encountered a 17-year-old mother from Guatemala who couldn’t stand because of complications from an emergency C-section, and who was caring for a sick and dirty premature baby.
“When we encountered the baby and her mom, the baby was filthy. They wouldn’t give her any water to wash her. And I took a Kleenex and I washed around her neck black dirt,” said Hope Frye, who was leading the group, adding, “Not a little stuff — dirt.”
After government lawyers argued in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco this week that amenities such as soap and toothbrushes should not be mandated under the legal settlement originally agreed to between the government and migrant families in 1997 and amended several times since then, all three judges voiced dismay.
Among the guidelines set under the legal settlement are that facilities for children must be “safe and sanitary.”
The Justice Department’s lawyer, Sarah Fabian, argued that the settlement agreement did not specify the need to supply hygienic items and that, therefore, the government did not need to do so.
“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?” Judge William Fletcher asked Ms. Fabian. “I find that inconceivable that the government would say that is safe and sanitary.”
March 6, 2019
Kirstjen Nielsen’s Immigration Word Games
In her first appearance before House lawmakers since Democrats took over the chamber in January, a committee hearing that focussed much of its time on last year’s family-separation spree at the southern border, Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, proved a downright stickler for language. She referred to migrant kids in federal custody as “U.A.C.s,” shorthand for “unaccompanied minors.” She spoke of the need to take “operational control” of the border, and of the Administration’s fear that pro-immigrant policies—such as granting citizenship to Dreamers—will act as “pull factors,” inspiring more migrants to come to America. When Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, asked about the conditions in which kids taken from their parents were kept, she told him, “Sir, they’re not cages.”
“What are they?” Thompson demanded.
“They are areas of the border facility that are carved out for the safety and protection of those who remain there while they’re being processed,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen had a similar exchange with Kathleen Rice, a Democrat of New York. Nielsen had been arguing that family separation wasn’t a formal policy of the Trump Administration, just a side effect of upping the number of prosecutions of migrants crossing the border illegally. “It was a policy announced by the Attorney General of this country—that families were going to be separated,” Rice said. Nielsen disagreed. “The consequence of any adult going to jail in this country is they are separated from their child,” she said. “That wasn’t the point of it. The point was to increase prosecutions for those breaking the law, and not exempting any class of aliens.”
What was the point of the hearing, though? It’s been nearly a year since the Administration separated thousands of kids from their parents at the border. As Jonathan Blitzer has reported, no one in the Trump Administration has ever been held accountable for the family-separation policy, even as the misery and harm that it has caused has been acknowledged by Democrats and Republicans alike. What the Administration seems to have taken from that shameful episode is that it needed to be “smarter” about achieving its anti-immigrant goals. Wednesday’s hearing saw talk of “all of the above” approaches, and “gaps in the system,” and “statutory authority,” the language that the Administration has adopted since President Trump decided to turn the U.S. government upside down, in an attempt to shake loose some funding for the border wall that he promised his campaign supporters.
All this adherence to the language of bureaucracy cannot obscure the fact that the Trump Administration’s immigration policy isn’t a response to evidence or real-world conditions. Trump began his Presidential campaign with racism and fear, a message to his supporters that it was O.K. to fear and demonize immigrants. He has not wavered from that position. If there was a moment of clarity at Wednesday’s hearing, it came from Al Green, a Democrat from Texas. “There are those who believe that we already have too many people of color in this country,” Green said. “And these—one of whom happens to be the President of the United States of America—would institute policies that will prevent people of color from coming to this country. White babies would not be treated the way these babies of color are being treated, Madam Secretary. This is about color.” Source
February 26, 2019
Thousands of migrant youth allegedly suffered sexual abuse in U.S. custody
Thousands of allegations of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors (UAC) in the custody of the U.S. government have been reported over the past 4 years, according to Department of Health and Human Services documents given to Axios by Rep. Ted Deutch’s office.
Feb 4, 2019
Force-Feeding Is Torture, and the United States Government Is Doing It in Your Name
I don’t know if it bothers anybody, but this is considered to be torture by the people who study what torture really is. From the Washington Post:
Ten detainees at the facility are under a self-imposed hunger strike, ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said in an email Saturday. Of the 10, nine are from India, and one is from Nicaragua, Bennett said. Nine of them missed nine consecutive meals, triggering ICE’s hunger strike protocols — medical evaluations and health monitoring. At various points in mid-January, a federal judge ordered the nine to be fed and hydrated without consent, according to ICE.
ICE’s update comes on the heels of a report by the Associated Press, which revealed on Wednesday that six detainees were being force-fed at the El Paso facility. They are on a hunger strike to protest “rampant verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards.” The AP report triggered outrage from lawmakers and human rights groups who decried the practice as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”
(Let us note here for the record that a casual attitude toward torture carried out in facilities beyond the reach of human-rights law is a legacy from the second Bush administration and everybody on TV who spent the Aughts carrying water for that administration should be made to account for what it normalized.)
The World Medical Association has declared it anathema for any doctor to participate in a force-feeding program. In 2013, a leak to Al Jazeera provided us with a look into how grotesque the process is.
Hunger striking Guantanamo prisoners who are force-fed a liquid nutritional supplement undergo a brutal and dehumanising medical procedure that requires them to wear masks over their mouths while they sit shackled in a restraint chair for as long as two hours, according to documentation obtained by Al Jazeera. The prisoners remain this way, with a 61cm – or longer – tube snaked through their nostril until a chest X-ray, or a test dose of water, confirms it has reached their stomach.
At the end of the feeding, the prisoner is removed from the restraint chair and placed into a “dry cell” with no running water. A guard then observes the detainee for 45-60 minutes “for any indications of vomiting or attempts to induce vomiting”. If the prisoner vomits he is returned to the restraint chair. That’s just a partial description of the “chair restraint system clinical protocol” which medical personnel are instructed to follow when administering a nutritional supplement to prisoners who have been selected for force-feeding by Guantanamo Commander Rear Admiral John Smith.
As Clara Long of Human Rights Watch put it:
Force-feeding – which involves pushing a feeding tube down a patient’s nose – can be very painful and is inherently cruel, inhuman, and degrading. Medical ethics and human rights norms generally prohibit the force feeding of detainees who are competent and capable of rational judgment as to the consequences of refusing food. A relative of two men being force-fed with nasal tubes by ICE told the AP the men are having persistent nose bleeds and vomiting several times a day.
Hunger strikes are often the last resort of the otherwise powerless. Suffragettes employed them and, having done so, were brutally force-fed while in custody. They have a long history in Irish politics, from the death in custody in 1917 of Thomas Ashe, who succumbed immediately after having been force-fed, to the blanket protests of imprisoned IRA and INLA men in the early 1980s, during which the sainted Margaret Thatcher allowed an elected member of Parliament named Bobby Sands to starve himself to death rather than allow him to wear clothes of his own choosing while incarcerated. It is a last, desperate cry from people otherwise voiceless. And force-feeding these people is torture, no matter how many doctors are standing around, watching.
What the hell is wrong with us? Source
February 4, 2019
THE CALIFORNIA REPORT
ACLU Demands Government Account for Thousands More Separated Migrant Children
A top official with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is defending his agency’s efforts to identify migrant children separated from parents at the border — and the agency’s narrow definition of which children must be accounted for under a federal judge’s order.
In a court declaration filed Friday, Jonathan White, a commander with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps who is leading HHS’s efforts to reunify separated families, said his team had identified all the separated children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of HHS, as of June 26, 2018. That’s the date U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued an injunction to stop family separations and ordered the government to promptly reunite children with their parents.
Sabraw’s order came in a class action lawsuit — Ms. L vs. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which challenged the Trump administration over family separation.
White said in his declaration that the total number of children his agency was responsible for returning to their families is 2,816.
That’s an increase over previous tallies.
In July 2018, ORR reported that there were 2,654 affected children. Officials later revised the number to 2,737. The vast majority of those children have since been released to their parents or another close relative.
But last month, the inspector general for HHS issued a watchdog report, which found that thousands of additional children may have been taken from their parents at the border beginning in 2017, “before the accounting required by the court.”
Sabraw asked the government to respond to the inspector general’s report, which states, “Public attention has focused largely on children separated from their parents who are covered by a widely reported federal court order. But, more children, over a longer period of time, have been separated from their parents or guardians and referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for care.”
Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing plaintiff parents in the Ms. L case, say the government should be held accountable for the earlier separations — and ensure that all those children are also returned to their parents.
“We believe that even if the family were separated and the children were released from U.S. custody before June 26, those families should be included,” said Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney in the case.
“What we suspect is that many parents believed that the only way to get their child out of government custody was to agree to allow the child to be sent to a foster family or some other sponsor … And we have no idea if those parents have now gotten their children back or not.”
But in his declaration, White said it was unfeasible to try to account for children who had been separated from parents and then released by ORR prior to the June injunction.
“HHS has no statutory authority over discharged children, much less routine contact with all of them,” he wrote. “ORR grantees would face significant hurdles if they tried to collect information from separated children who were discharged before June 26, 2018.”
White said that over the past year and a half, close to 90 percent of unaccompanied or separated children released from ORR were placed with a parent or close relative. So he reasoned that any children separated in 2017 were most likely with their families now.
Even if it were possible to locate previously separated children, White stated that HHS lacks the authority to take a child back from a sponsor in order to reunite the child with their parent. White, a social worker, warned that doing so would “destabilize” the child’s environment and could be traumatic to the children.
“The option more consistent with the best interest of the child,” he asserted, “would be to allow the child to remain with their sponsor and focus instead on the ongoing work of reunifying parents with separated children presently in ORR care.”
The ACLU’s Gelernt called that answer horrific.
“It can’t be that we can’t account for thousands of children who were separated just because it may be too much work,” Gelernt said.
“The Trump administration’s response is a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them.”
Gelernt has asked Judge Sabraw to include any child taken from a parent since 2017 in the Ms. L. case. The court is expected to hear that motion later this month. Source
225total visits,1visits today