NBC News reports that, as a result of Trump’s new family separation policy, hundreds of children are being held at border stations in unsuitable conditions, especially for children, and beyond the time period allowed under the law.
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen implemented an unprecedented “zero tolerance” policy, vowing to prosecute all immigrants crossing the border in between ports of entry, resulting in children being taken from their parents. The purpose is clear: to deter families seeking protection from violence or improved opportunities for their family.
In just the first two weeks under Trump’s new family separation policy, 658 children have been taken from parents. At this rate, thousands of children will be separated and placed in government custody.
When children are taken from parents by DHS at the border, the law requires that the child be transferred to the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours. Currently, HHS has 11,200 beds to care for such children, well below the number needed to handle existing cases as well as the vast and immediate increase in the number of children in need of care and custody as a result of Trump’s new family separation policy.
As the number of children being taken from their parents increases, the places to care for them are becoming overwhelmed. As a result, according to the expose by NBC News, children are left in unsafe conditions at border stations longer than necessary and in violation of the law.
[N]early 300 of the 550 children currently in custody at U.S. border stations had spent more than 72 hours there, the time limit for immigrants of any age to be held in the government’s temporary facilities. Almost half of those 300 children are younger than 12, according to the document, meaning they are classified by the Department of Homeland Security as “tender age children.”
Furthermore, NBC News reports that government officials are touring military bases next week to consider using the facilities to handle the volume of separated children created by Trump’s new policy.
This raises the specter of abuse and mistreatment. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes described the horror of seeing children locked up in “dog kennels” at a Border Patrol Station in Texas. In a tweet linking to the Hayes interview Merkley said:
My visit to the McAllen processing center was a harrowing experience. Children were in cages. People were distraught. Kids were ripped from their parents’ arms. It’s unconscionable that we are treating them this way.
A recent report by the ACLU, based upon a review of FOIAed DHS documents, describes horrific conditions and abuse at border detention facilities between 2009 and 2014:
[F]irsthand accounts and internal government reports documented horrific detention conditions: children held in freezing rooms with no blankets, food, or clean water; forced to sleep on concrete floors or share overcrowded cells with adult strangers; denied necessary medical care; bullied into signing self-deportation paperwork; and subjected to physical and sexual assault while in CBP custody.
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a new project of America’s Voice, said:
The Trump Administration has implemented a morally bankrupt and unprecedented family separation policy with very little planning, and now we’re seeing the results: children being ripped from parents arms only to be further traumatized in unsuitable and unsafe border detention facilities. A border detention facility is no place for a child. It is precisely for this reason that the law requires that within 72 hours unaccompanied children encountered by border officials be moved from cold cages in Border Patrol stations to more appropriate facilities operated by HHS. It’s common sense and basic decency. This entire crisis is the result of Trump’s new family separation policy, and it will only get worse – with more and more children held in holding cells beyond the legal limit and exposed to abuse. This can and should end immediately. The Trump Administration can end this cruelty today by simply rescinding the policy.