In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Tom K. Wong, political science professor and highly-regarded researcher at University of California San Diego, details the growing abuses of the Trump administration in their attempts to prohibit asylum seekers from entering the U.S. As Wong notes, “From substandard conditions in immigration detention to verbal and physical abuse to serious due process concerns, the data show that the Trump administration is not abiding by its obligations under U.S. and international asylum and refugee law to treat humanely those who are seeking protection from persecution.”
Wong’s piece is excerpted below and available in full here.
The Trump administration has attempted to close the door on asylum seekers who are looking for refuge in the United States. But even as it blocks entry — and sends tens of thousands of asylum seekers to Mexico to wait out their immigration proceedings — thousands of families with children are also being held in federal immigration detention facilities.
Because the administration has prohibited advocacy groups, journalists, immigration attorneys and even congressional staff from entering detention facilities to document conditions and interview detainees, the public has had only anecdotal glimpses into how detainees were treated. Now we have systematic evidence to support accounts of the harsh conditions that asylum seekers experience in immigration detention. In many ways, it is worse than we thought.
….In a report released last week, we found that approximately 35% of the asylum-seeking heads of households we studied reported problems related to conditions in immigration detention, treatment in immigration detention, or medical issues. This finding is alarming since it’s very likely an underestimate, because the SDRRN was focused on providing needed services to the asylum-seeking families, not administering questionnaires. Moreover, abuses or problems in detention may be underreported by asylum seekers who are afraid that raising complaints may negatively affect their asylum case.
Of those who reported issues related to conditions in detention, approximately 6 out of 10 reported food and water problems, including not having enough to eat, being fed frozen food, being fed spoiled food, not being given formula for infants, not being given water, and having to drink dirty or foul-tasting water. Approximately half reported having to sleep on the floor, having to sleep with the lights on, overcrowded conditions, confinement, and the temperature being too cold in “la hielera,” the detention facilities known as the “iceboxes.” Approximately 1 out of every 3 reported not having access to clean or sanitary toilets, being able to shower or being able to brush their teeth.
About 1 out of 10 of the asylum-seeking heads of households — or more than 700 of them — reported verbal abuse, physical abuse or some form of mistreatment in immigration detention. Examples of verbal abuse include being told “we don’t want your kind here” and “you’re an ape,” among others. Examples of physical abuse include being thrown against the wall when attempting to get a drink of water.
The data also showed the great diversity of those who arrive at the southern border to seek refuge. The majority of the asylum-seeking families came from the “Northern Triangle” of Central America — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. However, many also came from other continents, 28 in all, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, Kazakhstan, India, China and Vietnam, to name a few. Any changes to U.S. asylum policies meant to deter Central Americans from entering at the southern border will affect asylum seekers from all over the world who are also looking to the U.S. for safety.
…From substandard conditions in immigration detention to verbal and physical abuse to serious due process concerns, the data show that the Trump administration is not abiding by its obligations under U.S. and international asylum and refugee law to treat humanely those who are seeking protection from persecution.
With the administration now determined to hold asylum-seeking families for potentially as long as it takes for their immigration proceedings to play out (which could be years), conditions may get worse. Cruelty, after all, may very well be the point.