Attorneys allege mistreatment of detained children - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Attorneys allege mistreatment of detained children

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2019 9:00 pm

There are children taking care of children.

Babies are wearing soiled clothes while minors are living in cramped conditions—and they’re getting sick.

These are conditions described in declarations filed with a request for a temporary injunction by a human rights organization against President Donald Trump’s administration over what attorneys describe as dangerous conditions in overcrowded federal facilities holding migrant children.

The Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law filed the request in a California federal court, complaining that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is violating a settlement governing how long migrant children are held in government custody at detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso.

The legal action is asking a federal judge to require CBP facilities here into immediate compliance by ordering the inspection of all those facilities by a public health expert who would mandate a remediation plan CBP must follow to make the facilities safe and sanitary, and to allow immediate access to the facilities by independent medical professionals who can assess the medical and psychological needs of children.

The legal action also seeks the deployment of a case management team to expedite the release of eligible children as quick as possible because of what the attorneys say is a backlog in placement caused by an inadequate Office of Refugee Resettlement placement arrangement.

They also want the judge to hold the defendants in contempt.

The legal action follows news broken by the Associated Press last week that revealed findings from a legal team that interviewed 60 children at a Border Patrol station near El Paso where children were caring for children with kids living for weeks in unsanitary conditions.

Declarations included in the court filing include testimony from children aged 5 to 18 detailing their experiences with unsafe and unsanitary conditions, children taking care of children and continued family separation.

One 12-year-old boy said he is so hungry that he wakes up at all hours of the night because of hunger.

“I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me,” the boy said, according to the attorneys.

A 16-year-old teen said children being held are only allowed one layer of clothing and the rest are thrown away.

A young mother, aged 16, said she slept on mats on the floor with aluminum blankets and authorities took her baby’s diapers, baby formula and all of their belongings.

“Our clothes were still wet and we were very cold, so we got sick… I’ve been in the US for six days and I have never been offered a shower or been able to brush my teeth. There is no soap and our clothes are dirty. They have never been washed,” the teen said, according to the attorneys.

One 15-year-old girl told the attorneys that she began taking care of a 5-year-old in the “Hieleras,” or ice boxes, who had been separated from her father.

“She was very upset. The workers did nothing to try to comfort her. I tried to comfort her and she has been with me ever since. (The 5-year-old) sleeps on a mat with me on the concrete floor. We spend all day every day in that room. There are no activities, only crying,” the teen said, according to the attorneys.

The declarations also include stories about babies being sick and mothers being told to “just deal with it,” and how the kids don’t have access to toothpaste or clean clothes.

One pregnant teen said she and her baby sleep on the floor and are waken up by the guards every at 3 a.m. every day.

“They leave babies, even little babies of two or three months, sleeping on the cold floor,” the 17-year-old mom said, according to the attorneys. “For me, because I am so pregnant, sleeping on the floor is very painful for my back and hips. I think the guards act this way to punish us.”

The lack of hygiene is also causing children to become sick.

“Because the facilities deny basic hygiene to the children, the flu is spreading among detained class members, who are not receiving essential medical assessments or prompt medical treatment,” the court documents state.

In April and May, as Border Patrol released thousands of migrants into Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen, volunteers and staff with several shelters reported that children were arriving sick, some needing to be taken to the hospital with fevers.

Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, who visited the McAllen processing center, said in the court document that after her visit, five infants were admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

This is the same processing center where an immigration advocate earlier this month found a 17-year-old mother cradling a premature infant in a sweatshirt.

The legal action is supported by more than 65 declarations from doctors, attorneys, children and parents, the attorneys said, describing what they call overwhelming evidence of violations.

“For the foregoing reasons, the Court should grant this application for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief to remediate the unsafe and unhygienic conditions, and to address the public health emergency at CBP facilities in the El Paso and Rio Grande sectors, and should also find Defendants in contempt,” the attorneys say in the request.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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