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Migrant Children Separated from their Families Faced Abuse, Filthy Conditions, and Inadequate Food and Water   

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Horrific stories of the conditions faced by migrant children have followed a court order to return the 3,000 children who were separated from their families by the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance policy”.  The Administration is likely to fail to meet a second court deadline to reunite families — and in some cases, some of the families it has reunited have only come together in detention facilities with disturbing conditions. There are widespread reports of lack of inadequate food and water, abuse from guards, and filthy, cold, and cramped living conditions inside the detention facilities.

Many of the immigrants referred to the facilities as “hieleras,” or “ice boxes” because of how cold they are kept, while the indoor fencing areas have been called “dog kennels.”  A report filed in federal court by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law documented 200 accounts of the conditions faced by migrant children and their parents.

“We see a policy of enforced hunger, enforced dehydration, and enforced sleeplessness coupled with routine insults and physical assaults”, said Peter Schey, the executive director at the Center. For the Huffington Post, Angelina Chapin highlighted some of the findings of the report. They are disturbing:

  • Most children said they were not told of their legal rights, including the right to be speedily released to a legal guardian or relative.
  • A 10-year-old from Honduras, Dixiana, told a lawyer her cell was so crowded that she and other girls had to sleep on the floor or while sitting up under bright lights. a guard gave her a frozen ham sandwich but failed to bring her and her cellmates water. “The ham was black. I took one bite, but did not eat the rest because of the taste.” A male officer kicked her awake while looking for a girl with a similar name to hers. Over the course of the next few days, she sat in a windowless cell with no idea if it was day or night, crying because she missed her mother.
  • One mother, Floridalma, described how she and her 3-year-old were put in a 10-by-10-foot room with three other mothers and their children. Since they had only two mattresses, the group slept with their heads on the padding and their bodies on the cement floor.
  • Many of the children describe the guards giving them water that tasted like chlorine. “I only drank it twice because I didn’t trust it,” said Justin, a 13-year-old from El Salvador. “It made me feel funny in my stomach the times I drank it.“ One mother, named Yojana, said, “We had to drink water from the toilet to keep hydrated.”
  • Children described going more than five days without bathing and having limited access to soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. Fatima says that her 8-year-old daughter had to wear soiled underwear for two days because the guards wouldn’t allow her to use the shower.
  • 15-year-old Elme said he did not have enough food and that he wasn’t allowed to see a doctor when he felt sick
  • Sixteen-year-old Erick said the guards in a California Border Patrol station called him and the other Guatemalan boys “burros,” the Spanish word for “donkey” or “stupid.”

The New York Times also summarized some of the disturbing incidents:

  • a 27-day-old infant who was born during his mother’s journey but was not examined by a pediatrician until the child had a seizure, an outcome of undiagnosed bleeding of the brain.
  • a 16-month-old baby who lost 31.8 percent of his body weight because of untreated diarrhea.
  • A 16-year-old girl named Keylin said the female guards at the border processing facility in McAllen, Texas, kicked her and other migrants with their boots to keep them awake. “The female guards made me and the other girls strip naked in front of them and leered at us before their showers,” she said.
  • Doctors reported that numerous children were accidentally inoculated with adult doses of a vaccine.
  • Several children suffered “severe” injuries, including lacerations and fractures of their fingers, when their hands got caught in a spring-loaded closure of heavy steel doors at the family facility in Karnes City, Texas, which was formerly a medium-security prison.

Read more accounts from the lawsuit on the conditions inside the detention facilities here.

More reports and lawsuits have shared similarly disturbing accounts. They include allegations of a 14-month-old reunited with his mother covered in lice and dirt. “It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us”, said the mother. Another child was returned with bronchitis and scabies. A father of a 3-year-old said his son is not the same as before the separation and would not talk to his dad after they were first reunited. An 11-year-old boy was told to “stop complaining”, after alerting the guard that he was being bullied by his roommate, and was returned to the same room after returning from the hospital for a cracked skull.

Reporting by Reveal found a temporary holding facility that was holding children overnight in an office building that lacked a kitchen, showers, or the ability to separate kids by age or sex.  They reported kids bathing out of sinks and lacking any outside play area.

According to the Associated Press, some teens were forced to care for smaller children they did not know, teaching themselves how to change diapers. They also reported that the caged children lacked toys or books and officials at the facility scolded a group of 5-year-olds for playing around.

According to the Washington Post, 49 days was the average stay at one child detention facility. The New York Times reported on the daily life and the many rules inside the detention facility. The day started at 6:30 A.M., with staff banging pots and pans to wake the kids up. The kids, like 10-year-old Diego Magalhães, had to make their beds, wash and mop the bathroom, and scrub the sinks and toilets before waiting in line for breakfast. Acting up could result in an injected sedative. And the children were not allowed to touch one another even if they were related. One young girl recalled that she had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug, but “they told me I couldn’t touch him.”

Numerous doctors and child care professionals have warred of the potential long-term or permanent psychological harm to a child who is forcibly separated from his or her family, including higher risks of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. Doctors who saw some of the separated children in New York worried about their inability to properly treat a sick child absent a parent to provide their medical history. They also warned that these children who are in the midst of trauma, even at a young age, can experience severe depression and suicidal thoughts. The American Academy of Pediatrics president has called Donald Trump’s policy of separating children and families “child abuse.”

Read more first person accounts from separated families here.