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Detained Mother with 9-year-old Son: “He wonders when we will get to the United States.  I do not tell him that we are already here. He wouldn’t believe that the United States would treat us this way.”

 

On Monday, more than 200 sworn statements from detained immigrants – mothers, fathers, children – were filed in federal court describing horrific conditions in immigration detention.  Many came seeking asylum only to be thrown into what most described as “dog cages” and “ice boxes” with highly unsanitary conditions where guards kicked and taunted children, guards inhumanely separated and dehumanized parents and children who were forced to sleep on concrete floors in over-crowded, cold cells, where adults and children used toilets in front of dozens of strangers in the middle of cells, where food and water was often limited, even for young children, and where there was limited to no access to phones.   

Below are key excerpts of sworn statements from just volume 3 of 12 volumes of declarations by detained immigrants.  

Declaration of Cristobal (page 12):  Father with 7-year-old son

My son [7 years old] and I stayed together…in the same cell with ten other people.   We had a sink and toilet in the same room. We all had to share the same bathroom and use it in front of everyone….The room was two by three meters.  We did not have access to a shower.

There was no water for us to drink.  We were thirsty and would ask for water and they would tell us to drink from the sink above the toilet.  We did not get any clean water that entire time. My son only got one juice.

They did not give us food.

We could not shower.

The cell was very cold.  The air conditioner was very strong so it was freezing in there.

We slept with aluminum blankets.  We slept on the hard floor and did not have mattresses….The officers would not turn off the lights.  We did not have a sense of what time of day it was, whether it was daytime or nighttime. I felt very confused.    

Some of the officials there would not feed the children if they were sleeping, so some children had to skip meals.  This happened to my son and me. I tried to ask for his meal that I could give it to him later, but the officer refused.  My son did not get to eat that meal.

They did not let us shower for days.  Before we were transferred to Berks, we were given five minutes to shower.  

There were seven adults and seven children in the same cell [in a second facility they were transferred to]…two by three meters.  They always had the lights on like the last place so it was very difficult to sleep and we could not tell what time of day it was. One official turned off the lights for one hour because the children were still awake and playing.

Declaration of Delmis (page 17):  Mother with 9- and 2 year-old children

…[W]e were brought in soaking wet since we had just swum across river.  When we walked into the dog house, it was awful. My daughter was crying because she was wet and freezing.  We were given aluminum blankets but that was not enough to temper the cold air in the dog house. We wore the same wet clothing for two days.  The cold was unbearable. My son is still suffering from a terrible cough and cold from how cold the dog house was those 4 nights.

It was impossible to sleep.  They never turned the lights off so it was impossible to get rest.  The guards would come in every 1.5 hours.

There were 8 women in my cage at the dog house.  It was very tight quarters because all eight women had their children with them as well.  The food was limited.

I was at the dog house for two days before they took us to another facility for a shower.  That was the first time that we were offered clean clothes.

[At Dilley family detention center], the medical attention here is tough because it takes hours to get medication.  They do not consider emergency situations over less urgent situations. My son has a strong cold, including a fever and sometimes his fever spikes high and I am far down in the line.  It takes up to two hours to get him medication.

Declaration of Justin (page 21):  Unaccompanied 13-year-old boy

The toilet was in the cell with us separated by a little wall.  I felt ashamed to use it because there was no privacy.

I haven’t been able to call my father since I was locked up….Nobody from immigration has said anything to me about talking to my family.  I’m afraid to ask because the officials aren’t very nice.

Declaration of Mayra (page 30):  Mother with 9- and 2-year-old children

We were put in a small cell with ten other people, all women and children.  There were three benches and no room to move around. There was a large trash can, but no toilet or sink.  It was very cold and each of us only had an aluminum blanket. We went to get mats to sleep on, but there were not enough and I was only able to get mats for my children.

They gave me papers to sign but did not tell me what they were.

The officials woke me up at at 2 am to fingerprint me.  I had to wake up my son as well to be fingerprinted.

The next morning…we left the immigration office.  It was a five-hour drive. My daughter asked the officer for water and he refused.

…[W]e arrived at another office and were given water that smelled and tasted dirty.  We did not drink it. We were taken to a room with an open toilet. There was a camera above it.  My son used the toilet, but my daughter did not because she felt uncomfortable. The room was very dirty.

After a long drive, we were locked in another cell.  I begged for water for my daughter but the officials would not give us any.  My daughter started crying. The officers told me to shut her up.

The cell was extremely cold.  We were each given thin mats and rough, dirty blankets.  We were [s]till freezing. The room had a bench and open toilet, which meant there was not enough room to sleep.

I was menstruating and asked to shower alone, but the officer refused and forced us to shower together.

My son [9-year-old] is badly traumatized.  He has been wetting his bed and is fearful all the time.  He saw someone bound with chains and asked me whether I would be chained in the same way.  He also overheard a woman say that she had been separated from her children, and asked me whether we would be separated as well.  He wonders when we will get to the United States. I do not tell him that we are already here. He wouldn’t believe that the United States would treat us this way.

My daughter [2-year-old] has serious trouble sleeping.  They won’t allow me to give her formula in a bottle, saying she too old.  She is accustomed to having a bottle at night which she sucks for comfort. 

She needs that more than ever.

Declaration of Ruth (page 34):  Mother with 7-year-old son

We were taken to a building where we stayed for three days.  I was put in a room, and the officials took my [7-year-old] son to another room.  I told him he had a fever, but the officials told me that it was not really a sickness.  

They put me in a room that was freezing.  It had a concrete floor and cement benches.  There were around 30-40 women. Around half had their children with them.  There was a baby who was only 1 year old. The women told me that children who are under around 6 stay with their parents.

The children in our room couldn’t sleep because of the cold.  They were crying the whole time. We got aluminum blankets but they didn’t help much.

There was not enough water for all of us.

The children in the room got sick.  They vomited, coughed, and had fevers.  The women with children were not allowed to bathe them.  The officials asked if the children needed medical attention, but told their mothers that coughs and fevers were not real sicknesses.  They would not provide medicine.

I saw my son a couple times at a distance but I never got to speak to him.  I was terrified. I did not know if they would hit my son. I worried that he would not be able to sleep without me there.  

Later that day, I saw officials leading my son somewhere.  I asked where they were taking him, but they would not tell me.  For 24 hours, I had no idea where he was or if he was ok. I was devastated.

On the fourth day…I was taken to court.  They shackled my hands and feet and put me on a bus with 25 men and women who were all shackled….I still did not know where my son was and was terrified.

At the court, I was assigned a lawyer for the first time.  I only talked to the lawyer for about five minutes before the judge came.  The judge told me that I could plead guilty or not guilty, but I would need evidence to show I was not guilty.  They said I was guilty if I crossed the river. I said that I had crossed the river, so I declared myself guilty.  All the parents asked about their kids, but the judge said he was not there to handle the children. He was just there to sentence us for the crime of crossing the river.  The judge declared us “not guilty” and I was returned to the perrera. Shortly after we got back, a nice official looked to see if my son was still in the perrera. After I found out he was there, he took me to see my son…and he was crying.

Either people were being yelled at or people were crying, especially children due to separation.  The officials would also kick people if they did not wake up when they were called to go somewhere.  

Declaration of Bridis (page 38):  Mother with 4-year-old son

We had walked for hours trying to turn ourselves in.  We were tired and thirsty. My baby was dehydrated. I begged for water and although the officer had some he denied me water.

We were put in a small room with about 25 other mother[s] and children.  There was no space to sit or lay. The room had two toilet seats with no privacy and no sink.  Around the wall there was like a cement bench where people could sit but they were full and crowded.  The temperature was extremely cold. Children were crying at all times. A lot of children including mine were shivering.  Human heat was not enough to warm the babies.

When we arrived I had an interview with an immigration officer…He then screamed at me and told me I was lying and that he was going to deport me immediately.

There was a lot of crying in there too.  We were not given food. Restrooms were overflowed and smelled terrible.  I was there 4 days and couldn’t sleep with the cold temperatures. Officers also told us to not sleep profoundly.  I once slept and woke up late to get breakfast and was denied. Officer sent us back and told me to wake up on time next time.

Declaration of Blanca (page 45):  Mother traveling with 4-year-old daughter

When we got there, they…searched our hair and checked our entire bodies….It was very uncomfortable for me particularly because I was searched by a man and I have suffered both physical and sexual abuse by men in the past.  

I also asked for a phone call to tell my family where I was and that I was alive but the official would not let me.  

I never showered at the ice house or the dog house.  My daughter was also not permitted to shower. Both of us were covered in dirt and dust from our walk through the desert after we crossed the river.

Sometimes I am notified that I have an appointment with a lawyer and two hours later I am told it is cancelled.  

I was told to sign documents but they were all in English.  I am not sure what I signed.

Declaration of Brandon (page 50):  14-year-old boy with mother and two brothers

I was separated from my mother and youngest brother.

I like meal time because it is the only time I get to see my mom and younger brother.

The lights in the room are very bright and are on all day and night.  There are no windows to the outside, so I don’t know what time it is.

Declaration of Fatima (page 53):  Mother with 8-year-old daughter

We were taken to the “dog cage” for five days.  In the “dog cage,” people were to sleep on mats that were two inches thick on the floor.  Several babies were crying. There was no access to showers….On the second or third day there, my daughter soiled herself from peeing and pooping and wanted to wash her private parts….I asked if I could clean her because her underwear were soiled.  The guards said, “No.” They said that they only have 10 showers. She remained in her dirty underwear until we arrived at Dilley [ICE family detention facility] several days later.

It both places it was very, very cold.  

Lights were on all the time and were never turned off, even in the night.  It made it very hard to sleep.

Declaration of Doris (Page 60):  Mother with 2 ½ -year-old son

[For 8 days, m]y child and I had to sleep on the floor.  We all had to sleep very close to each other and it was difficult to sleep.  I was only able to take one shower with my son in the 8 days that we were there.  

There was no regular water to drink.

It was very cold.  It was like a freezer.

The lights were on all of the time.  In the middle of the night the lights were kept on.

After 8 days, my son and I were taken to another place where we were held for 9 days in the place they call the dog cage.

My son became very sick at this place and had a fever and was vomiting.  He was vomiting for 4 days.

My son and I have been at the current location in Dilley [ICE family detention facility] for about 32 days.  I was told that I am not able to stay, but my son is able to stay. My plan is to wait longer to see if I can stay.

I do not know what to do.

Declaration of Karen (page 64):  Mother with 5- and 4-year old children

I cannot sleep because I am so cold.  I am in pain from the burn on my leg, my children cry from fear and from the cold. I can only hold one at a time to keep them warm.  Whoever I am not holding is cold.

The ground is hard and cold and that is how we sleep.

Declaration of Daise (page 73):  Mother of 16-year-old daughter

We were immediately separated at the Dog House and stayed separated the entire time.  We were allowed to talk to each other only once for ten minutes in the three days we were there.

My daughter was very frightened and depressed the entire time.  She is still depressed and has nightmares and a lot of anxiety because of the separation.

The female guards yelled at my daughter a lot, called her names and made fun of her and the other children.  The female guards would not let her sleep and kicked her to keep her awake. The also called the children filthy and told them not to throw anything on the floor the way they would at home in their country.  The female guards made my daughter and the other girls strip naked in front of them and ogled the girls before their showers. My daughter was scared of the guards, because they were really angry all the time.  

The bathrooms at the Dog House were dirty and disgusting.  We were told to continue to use them and not to make the bathrooms dirtier, even though the toilets were already overflowing.

We were muddy and wet when were apprehended, but we were not allowed to shower or change for five days.

We were housed in dog cages and my daughter was constantly moved without telling me.  This made me fearful for her safety and further traumatized my daughter.

After four days we were moved to another Ice Box, where we were reunited and where we stayed for one day.  We were not given food or water the entire day.

After one day, we were moved to another Dog House that was different than the first one.  We stayed at this Dog House for one day and night. We were separated again immediately.

Declaration of Alejandra (page 77):  Mother of 2 ½-, 11-, 12-, and 14-year-old children

I am staying in a room with my four children.  There are four sinks in the room – three of them built into the toilets and one is separate.  There is no soap and no paper towels. No toothbrushes or toothpaste. There is no door on the toilet and people in the room can see the person on the toilet.  

The lights are on all the time, including at night.

When we arrived there were approximately 50 people in the room and there was no additional room for more mats.

[M]y daughter wet herself while she was sleeping because there were so many people on the floor that you would have to walk over people to get to the toilet.  She couldn’t step over everyone.

Declaration of Dinora (page 81):  Mother of 1-year-old child

We sleep on the concrete floor.

They have no food for my baby – only formula/milk.  

Declaration of Leydi (page 86):  Mother of 9-year-old daughter

[W]e were put in a crowded cell with about 25 people.  There wasn’t enough room for everyone to lay down except when the officials would take some people out to take their fingerprints.  Then we could take a turn to lay down. It was extremely cold. All we got was a thin metallic blanket. It was very hard to wrap the blanket around my daughter and myself to keep warm.  Plus, we had to sit directly on the cement floor, which was very cold. We were barely able to sleep….The lights were on at all times.

There were two bathrooms in the cell, but they weren’t private.  There was only a waist high wall. Also, because the cell was so crowded there were people laying down in the bathroom area.

There was a thermos with water, but there was nothing in it when we got there.

When we arrived there there were three completely full cells.  They put us in the hallways to sleep. The next day there was enough room for us — there were about 30-35 people to a cell.  In some cells there were just women, in others just children.

In La Perrera, I saw children crying in a cage.  Their mothers were in one cage, and their children were in another, crying for their mothers.  The youngest children were about five or seven years old. I saw a very young girl crying for her father….The mothers tried to reach their children, and I saw children pressing up against the fence of the cage to try to reach out.  But the officials pulled the children away and yelled at the mothers.

The officials were yelling at us all the time.  They made us wake up three times in the night to make us line up and go through a list.  In the middle of the night, they would kick us to wake us up.