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In Their Own Words: Detained Children, Doctors and Lawyers Describe Horrific Conditions in U.S. Detention Facilities

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This is What House Democrats Were Fighting to End in the Border Supplemental Funding Bill This Week

At the same time that House Democrats were fighting to keep key provisions in a border funding bill to protect kids from deteriorating detention conditions, detained children, parents, doctors, and lawyers submitted affidavits describing horrific detention conditions in a federal court request to order the Department of Homeland Security to immediately stop the harm to children in detention.  

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said: “Several provisions in the House supplemental funding bill, including a House amendment to the Senate bill, would have been critical to addressing the horrific conditions we’re seeing in detention. Unfortunately, due to President Trump’s veto threat and opposition by virtually every House Republican of the House Democratic bill, a funding package will be signed into law that could have done much more to address these horrific conditions.  Now it’s up to a federal court to ensure basic protections for children. And, even though the Congress failed yesterday to pass key provisions that could have improved conditions and made Congressional oversight more effective, we must continue to look to Congress to hold the administration accountable for these horrific detention conditions using existing oversight tools and law while, at the same time, continue to advocate for strong protections in future bills.”

David Leopold, Chair of Immigration at Ulmer & Berne LLC, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Counsel to DHS Watch said: “Horrific photographs of children locked in filthy conditions, deprived of toothbrushes and soap, separated from their parents. These images shock the conscience of every American. Congress could have done more this week to hold the Trump administration accountable for its serial abuse of children and toddlers in detention.  Unfortunately, our elected leaders fell short. It now falls upon the American people and the courts to ensure that children and toddlers in detention are protected from the brazen cruelty perpetrated by the Trump administration.” 

Below are excerpts of statements made by detained children, parents, doctors, and lawyers describing horrific conditions they personally experienced or witnessed in immigration detention.   

Detained Children Caring for Younger Detained Children

“A Border Patrol Agent came in our room with a two-year-old boy and asked us, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy?’ Another girl said she would take care of him, but she lost interest after a few hours and so I started taking care of him yesterday. His bracelet says he is two years old. I feed the 2-year-old boy, change his diaper, and play with him. . . . . The little boy that I am taking care of never speaks. He likes for me to hold him as much as possible.”

“Most of the children are all alone. One was only two years old. She came to the U.S. with her aunt, but they separated her. One of the girls tried to take care of her.”

“There are young children with no parents. There was an 8-year-old with no parent here who was trying to take care of a little 4-year-old girl. She did not know how to take care of a little girl so she kept asking me what to do, . . .”

“There are children who are very young here, only two or three years old, and their mother is not with them. . . . . Other children who are older try to take care of the little ones.” 

Severe Overcrowding

“The conditions are very crowded in the cage where I am at. There are about 75 people each night that I have been here. We sleep literally stacked on top of each other should to shoulder. So many are sick. On any given day there are at least 20 that are sick. They try to separate the ones that are sick, so that means people come and go. But not everyone goes if they are sick.”

Unsanitary Conditions, Lack of Clothing

“Most children are wearing filthy clothing and have not bathed or been provided clean clothing since crossing the river. Many of the babies and toddlers are dirty and most are not fully clothed as a result of CBP confiscating their clothing and failing to provide new clothing.”

Grabman declaration discusses “K.B.A.J.’s premature infant daughter who was ‘swaddled in a dirty towel.’” 

“Dr. Sevier recounts that ‘all parents of infants drinking formula from a bottle reported having no ability to wash bottles…Re-feeding a child spoiled formula is a significant health hazard that can cause severe infectious diarrhea and death in this vulnerable population. . . . Many mothers regularly boil their infant’s bottles to ensure there is no chance of their infant acquiring an infection. . . ., to deny parents the ability to wash their infant’s bottles is unconscionable.’” 

Insufficient Food and Water

“The nursing mothers reported to Dr. Sevier that they are ‘drinking only 1.5L of water per day (offered at meals)’ and that ‘they would drink more if they had more access to water.’  According to Dr. Sevier, ‘[a]n average-sized adult requires 2L of water per day to maintain adequate hydration. A breast-feeding woman requires at least 3L per day and extra caloric needs to maintain adequate hydration.’” 

“It is Dr. Sevier’s medical opinion that Defendants are ‘endangering the health of these infants’ by providing ‘breastfeeding mothers less than adequate supplies of fluids and nutrition…An infant without adequate nutrition is at risk of complications from even the most minor of illnesses.’” 

“Dr. Sevier reports that ‘[i]nfants between 6-12 months should be fed pureed foods in addition to formula.’ But, the infants in that age range are only being provided with ‘infant formula, apple sauce and solid foods.’ This improper nutrition of formula and apple sauce ‘leaves a child at risk for developing nutritional deficiencies, including but not limited to iron deficiency anemia. This can cause serious health and developmental consequences given anemia in infancy is linked to reduced standardized testing scores in school-aged children.’” 

Severely Lacking Medical Care, Overcrowding, and Lack of Appropriate Treatment

Cohen declaration “noting observations a number of what appeared to be profoundly ill infants and children as well as a pregnant teenager whose toddler has tested positive for flu, which may be fatal to pregnant women and their fetuses”

Grabman declaration “discussing  illnesses of six Ursula child detainees, including K.B.A.J. who was confined to a wheelchair following an emergency caesarian section and her premature infant who was ‘listless’”

Gialluca declaration “describing ill minors, including infants who were ‘listless,’ ‘sallow,’ and ‘frail.’”

“The conditions are very crowded in the cage where I am at. There are about 75 people each night that I have been here. We sleep literally stacked on top of each other should to shoulder. So many are sick. On any given day there are at least 20 that are sick. They try to separate the ones that are sick, so that means people come and go. But not everyone goes if they are sick.” 

On-going Family Separation

“The immigration agents separated me from my father right away. I was very frightened and scared. I cried. I have not seen my father again….I have been at this facility for several days. I have not been told how long I have to stay here. I am frightened, scared, and sad.”

“At 3 AM the next day the officers told us that our grandmother would be taken away. My grandmother tried to show the officers a paper signed by my parents saying that my grandmother had been entrusted to take care of us. The officers rejected the paperwork saying that it had to be signed by a judge. Then the officers took my dear grandmother away. We have not seen her since that moment….The officers didn’t give us any information about how we could reunite with our grandmother.”

“[T]hey separated me from my aunt. I cried and they did not tell me where I was going. I was taken to this place [Clint CBP] where I have been for 3 days.”

“There have been boys as young as 3 or 4 years old in the cell with me. The 3 year old had a brother with him. The 4 year old came to the United States with an uncle but they separated him so he has no one here. It is very sad here. We all want to leave.”