Originallyu published by LA Times

Trump’s heavy-handed immigration enforcement policies have a clearly discernible set of victims: Children.

After hearing complaints about squalid conditions and lengthy detentions of minors, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee last week gave the government a July 12 deadline to work with a court-appointed mediator and the plaintiffs suing on behalf of the children to file a joint status report regarding their mediation efforts and what has been done to address post haste the conditions.

The government had asked in vain for more time, with Gee pointedly noting that the government has failed to meet previous court orders regarding detention conditions for minors. The 1997 Flores agreement limits detention of children at border stations to 72 hours and in detention centers to 20 days in the least-restrictive conditions possible, which the government routinely breaks.

The Court has already issued several orders that have set forth in detail what it considers to be violations of the Flores Agreement, Gee wrote. The parties need not use divining tools to extrapolate from those orders what does or does not constitute noncompliance.

Yet lawyers who toured one center in Texas recently reported finding children in soiled clothes and diapers, and without ready access to showers, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste and other personal items.

The government blames the influx of migrants from Central America, arguing that the sheer numbers have overwhelmed its system. President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have blamed Congress for lack of funding, and there’s some truth to that. Congress has failed to create and finance a system to quickly process the children it takes into custody and find sufficient caregivers for them.

But there’s more at play here than underfunded facilities. Revelations of a private Facebook group of 9,500 border agents, which contained racist and misogynist posts including some targeting sitting members of Congress, illustrate what is at least a subculture among border agents of abject disdain not only for migrants, but for political figures seeking to help them.

Getting housed in squalid conditions is only part of the mistreatment of minors. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union last year detailed incidents of physical abuse of minors at the hands of border agents during the Obama administration. And the government is still separating children from their immigrant parents despite court orders barring that atrocious practice.

Children who arrive at the border, either alone or with relatives, are in most cases fleeing deep poverty and violence. That doesn’t mean that they qualify for protection and asylum status here, but they do have the lawful right to ask for sanctuary.

And here children face another hurdle (as do adult migrants). Because immigration is a civil matter, children facing deportation are not entitled to a lawyer. If they can find one, they can use one, but unlike in criminal courts, the government is under no obligation to provide one.

So we have the absurdist spectacle of children squaring off against government lawyers before immigration judges and trying to explain under which part of immigration and asylum law they are petitioning for permission to remain in the U.S.

The presence of a lawyer makes a crucial difference. About 3 of 4 minors who are aided in court by a lawyer win the right to remain in the country, while more than 80% without a lawyer get deported, according to past analyses by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Meanwhile, as the government ratchets up its interior enforcement, some 4 million U.S.-born children – citizens – face the possibility that their parents will get arrested and deported, forcing families to decide whether to send these American children abroad, as well, or leave them to be raised by extended family members or friends.

All done, of course, in the pursuit of national security and secure borders. Do you feel safer knowing our government treats children this way?

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Originally published by LA Tiimes

At night, the teenage girl from Honduras wraps a thin foil blanket around herself and her infant son as they lie on a floor mat in the cold. The lights are glaring and sleepless children are crying. It’s so crowded inside the caged area that there isn’t space for her baby boy to crawl. 

This is the 17-year-old’s account, one of dozens filed in federal court this week by advocates for children locked away in the immigration system. 

Every five days, she is given a shower and can brush her teeth. Her baby boy already had a fever and cough but she didn’t dare ask to see a doctor, for fear it would prolong their detention at the Ursula facility in McAllen, Texas. She said she has been there nearly three weeks. 

“He feels frozen to the touch,” the girl said. “We are all so sad to be held in a place like this.” 

Her declaration was filed with a court in Los Angeles that oversees a long-standing settlement agreement over custody conditions for migrant children caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Teens and children, detained days or weeks by U.S. border authorities, described frigid cells where flu -stricken youngsters in dirty clothes ran fevers, vomited and cried with no idea when they would be getting out. 

Some of the children traveled alone to the U.S. Others traveled with siblings or other relatives and were separated because the government only allows them to stay with parents or legal guardians. 

Doctors and lawyers encountered several teen mothers at the detention facilities – some with newborn babies in a fragile state. Five infants were admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit at a local hospital after a doctor visited the McAllen facility, according to the court documents. 

Advocates are seeking an emergency order to require immediate inspections of the Texas facilities, access for doctors and the prompt release of children to parents or other close relatives in the United States. 

The government said in a filing Thursday that the requests by plaintiffs would “impose extensive obligations” and an emergency order wasn’t the right way to do it. 

“Given plaintiffs’ heavy burden of proof, the court should decline to reach any conclusions as to plaintiffs’ allegations without affording the government a full and fair opportunity to reply to the allegations that plaintiffs have lodged against them,” the attorneys wrote. 

The advocates have pressed the U.S. government for years to comply with the 1997 settlement agreement that set minimum standards for the detention of child migrants and the process for their release. A judge previously found the government kept children detained too long and in harsh conditions, and ordered an independent monitor to report on facilities. 

The Trump administration is facing growing backlash over its handling of a surge in immigrant families and children at the border, many fleeing gang and domestic violence in Central America. Five children have died since late last year after being detained and lawyers who visited a Border Patrol station near El Paso last week described children being held in squalid conditions with little care and inadequate food, water and sanitation. 

In a court declaration, Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who visited the McAllen center earlier this month, said she saw many teenage mothers and parents unable to wash baby bottles or get enough water to drink to adequately breastfeed their babies. With its cold temperatures and bright lights, she compared the center to a torture facility. 

“It is obvious that the dignity and well-being of children is not even an afterthought in the design of the center,” Sevier said. 

At another Customs and Border Protection center in Clint, Texas, children said no adults took care of them, so they tended to each other. They said they were always hungry, the water tasted horrible and there was no soap or water to wash their hands after using the bathroom. The flu was widespread and children who got sick were sent to a special cell. 

A 12-year-old girl from Ecuador said she was being held there with her 8- and 4-year-old sisters after they were separated from their grandmother. The guards told the girls it could take as long as two weeks for them to be reunited with their mother in Massachusetts. 

“Every night my sisters keep asking me, ‘When will our mommy come get us?'” she said in her declaration. “I don’t know what to tell them. It’s very hard for all of us to be here.” 

The children are not named in the declarations provided to the court. Attorneys interviewed the children over the past few weeks as part of monitoring under the settlement. 

U.S. agencies have been scrambling to find adequate facilities for migrants streaming across the border with Mexico, and the Border Patrol has been detaining some children for weeks as opposed to 72 hours, because the U.S. Department Health and Human Services said it doesn’t have the capacity to take them. 

Advocates have complained the department has delayed releasing children to sponsors who are willing to care for them in the United States and take them to immigration court hearings to determine whether they can stay in the country. They said that’s why kids are being kept in crowded border facilities for too long. 

In court filings, doctors said the filthy conditions lead to the spread of flu and other disease and show a lack of respect for the children’s humanity. Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, said the children’s deaths might have been prevented had the government promptly released them from custody. 

Warren Binford, an attorney who visited the Clint facility, said the Border Patrol lied about giving a shower to a 4-year-old girl who was extremely dirty and whose hair was so matted she thought it might have to be cut off. Two 7- and 8-year-olds who were caring for the younger child did their best to convince her, she said, but the girl, who was nonverbal, refused a shower after the attorney instructed agents to give her one. 

A 14-year-old Guatemalan girl said she fled with her sister, mother and niece to the United States because her father was abusive. She said she wasn’t allowed to shower for five days and was denied a toothbrush. Guards yelled at her, she said, when she tried to go to the bathroom. 

“The food here is not enough,” she said. “The food is not good, and I feel hungry.” 


This story has been corrected to fix the gender of attorney Warren Binford. 


Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California, and Galvan reported from Phoenix.

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