Migrant detention centers in U.S.: A few accounts – chilling, horrific

us immigrant children

Migrant detention centers in the U.S. are turning out to be an issue of debate. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence toured two detention facilities on the Texas border Friday, July 12, including a Border Patrol station where hundreds of men were crowded in sweltering cages without cots.

“Look, this is tough stuff,” Pence acknowledged at a later news conference.

“I knew we’d see a system that is overcrowded,” he added. “It’s overwhelmed and that’s why Congress has to act.”

The caged migrants were being held in an area at the McAllen Border Patrol station, U.S.

When detainees saw reporters arrive, many began shouting, saying they had been there for 40 days or more and they were hungry and wanted to brush their teeth.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General released a blistering report in early-July, slamming the Department for substandard conditions, where detained children did not have access to showers, changes of clothes, or hot meals.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has criticized President Donald Trump, saying there had to be a “better way” of securing the borders. “We don’t think that we have to put children in cages to do it,” she said, calling Trump’s immigration policies “outside the circle of civilized human behavior.”

Following reports shed light on the issue:

A “What first-hand government reports say about conditions at migrant detention centers” headlined USA Today (July 16, 2019) report by James Sergent said:

“The country is embroiled in a furious debate over the conditions of U.S. immigration detention facilities, as violence and poverty in Central America sends many refugees and migrants northward.

“So far in 2019, Border Patrol agents have taken roughly 600,000 migrants into custody. Seven children have died in U.S. custody since last year.

“A reporter traveling with Vice President Mike Pence during a recent tour of an all-male detention center in Texas described a horrendous stench and said nearly 400 men were housed in sweltering cages so crowded it would have been impossible for all of them to lie down. The Border Patrol supervisor who gave Pence the tour admitted that the men in custody hadn’t taken a shower in 10 to 20 days.

“After his visit, Pence said: ‘It was frankly heartbreaking, as parents, to talk to young children who told us of having walked two and three months … to cross into our country.’

“He also defended the facilities: ‘Every family that I spoke with told me they were being well cared for.’”

The report said:

“Many media reports, including the USA TODAY Network’s El Paso Times, have described conditions at the detention facilities as nightmarish.

“President Donald Trump has said media accounts of the detention centers are ‘exaggerated’ and that they are ‘beautifully run’ and ‘clean.’ ‘Great reviews!’ he tweeted.

“The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector-General, however, called the overcrowded conditions ‘a ticking time bomb.’”

USA Today assembled accounts only from the government’s own reports as well as that of pediatricians who have toured border facilities first-hand. Following are those:

The article originally appeared on USA TODAY: “Trump, government accounts at odds on migrant detention center quality”

USA Today carried another report headlined “Chilling first-hand reports of migrant detention centers highlight smell of ‘urine, feces,’ overcrowded conditions” on July 17, 2019/

The report said government officials and pediatricians who have toured border facilities give first-hand accounts of conditions. USA TODAY compiled their words.

The report by James Sergent, Elinor Aspegren, Elizabeth Lawrence and Olivia Sanchez cited the following comments:

“The first thing that hit me when we walked in the door was the smell. It was the smell of sweat, urine and feces. No amount of time spent in these facilities is safe for children.” — Dr. Sara Goza, who toured two CBP facilities in June, told CNN

“Children at three of the five Border Patrol facilities we visited had no access to showers … [and] limited access to a change of clothes.” — Office of Inspector General Report on Rio Grande Valley, July 2

“We observed that two facilities had not provided children access to hot meals … until the week we arrived.” — Office of Inspector General Report on Rio Grande Valley, July 2

“The administration has continued to separate children from their parents at the border since June 2018. In February 2019, the Administration identified 245 children separated since the court order. That number increased to more than 700 by May 2019.” — U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform staff report, July 12

“The youngest child separated from his parents was a four-month-old baby boy from Romania who was separated from his 35-year-old father upon arrival in February 2018. The father was deported in early June 2018.” — U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform staff report, July 12

Foreign policy and migrant crisis

The “How US foreign policy in Central America may have fueled the migrant crisis” headlined report by USA Today (published December 21, 2018 and updated December 25, 2018) said:

“As thousands of migrants seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexican border, the Trump administration said it’s committed to promoting ‘a safer and more prosperous Central America’ as a way to stem the tide of people fleeing poverty, violence and corruption in their home countries.

“That pledge – issued Tuesday in a new State Department strategy toward Central America – may ring hollow in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

“For one thing, President Donald Trump has threatened to cut assistance to those countries, not increase it, citing their governments’ inability to curb the desperate outflow of migrants. Trump wants to end a decades-old humanitarian immigration program, which would force tens of thousands of documented Central American immigrants to return to their countries.”

The report by Deirdre Shesgreen said:

“Long before Trump took office, the United States had a checkered history of involvement in Central America – and some say American foreign policy in the region caused the instability and inequality at the root of the current crisis.

“‘The current debate … is almost totally about what to do about immigrants when they get here,’ said Jeff Faux, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. ‘But the 800-pound gorilla that’s missing from the table is what we have been doing there that brings them here, that drives them here.’”

The Washington datelined report cited decades of U.S. intervention in the region.

It said:

“From the perspective of Faux and others, the answer goes back decades. There was the CIA’s covert operation to overthrow Guatemala’s democratically elected president in 1954. And America’s intervention in El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s. And the Obama administration’s refusal in 2009 to label the ouster of Honduras’ president a military coup – even though soldiers dragged him out of bed in the middle of the night and sent him into exile in his pajamas.

“‘We’ve sent troops there, we’ve suborned governments there, and basically, we have been supporting the elites who protect U.S. business interests,’ Faux said.

“The decades-long history of American intervention has left Central American governments weak and fragile, he said, while empowering oligarchs and drug cartels, which has, in turn, fueled the corruption and gang violence that drives residents to flee.”

Costs of children in cages

A “Migrant ‘children in cages’ costs American taxpayers more than $4.5 million daily” headlined report by Yahoo Finance said:

“The ongoing crisis at detention centers on the southern U.S. border is costing American taxpayers more than $4.5 million per day.

“Health and Human Services (HHS) told Yahoo Finance that of the 13,000 children in its care, 2,594 are staying at the two influx shelters at Homestead, Florida, and Carrizo Springs, Texas. About $2 million is spent each day for those nearly 2,600 children staying at those two facilities. Taxpayers are spending $2.7 million to house the remaining 10,406 children at permanent HHS facilities, bringing the total to roughly $4.7 million.

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) released a blistering report on Tuesday, slamming the Department for substandard conditions, where detained children didn’t have access to showers, changes of clothes, or hot meals.”

The report by Kristin Myers said:

“The IG called on DHS to ‘take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley.’”

The July 6, 2019 datelined report said:

“Legally, unaccompanied children and children with a parent or legal guardian are to be taken care of by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). HHS says it has 13,000 children its agency’s care. Children are kept in one of two types of facilities: temporary (emergency influx shelters) and permanent. According to HHS, while it costs $256 a day to house children at permanent HHS facilities, the figure balloons at temporary shelters to $775 a night.

“Homestead has drawn the ire of both politicians and activists, who are trying to get the facility in Florida (a former Job Corps facility) shut down.

“Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced the ‘Shut Down Child Prison Camps’ act in a bid to permanently close the shelter. After visiting the site earlier in the year, the senator tweeted: ‘It was absolutely chilling to see so many children locked up in prison camps. They should be in homes, playgrounds, and schools!’

“Responding to requests from Yahoo Finance, the agency said ‘the safety and care of UAC is our top priority. ORR has worked aggressively to meet its responsibility, by law, to provide shelter for unaccompanied children referred to its care by the Department of Homeland Security.’”

The report said the Bank of America decided it would no longer finance companies involved in immigrant detention centers and called on policy makers to take on immigration reform.

Ballooning costs of detaining migrant children

The report said:

“While American taxpayers are currently spending nearly $5 million each day on detaining children at HHS facilities, it pales in comparison to the totality of the border crisis, and what has been spent so far this fiscal year.

“HHS isn’t the only government agency inundated thanks to an exploding crisis at the southwest border. So have sister agencies Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“ICE reports that it has currently detained 31,093 adults who are not convicted criminals or have pending criminal charges. The agency is currently conducting mass immigration raids across the country, which has prompted an outpouring of advice and support for undocumented immigrants. Once detained, the average detention for immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes or have pending criminal charges is 47.6 days. Responding to requests from Yahoo Finance, the agency shared that its adult average daily bed rate was $126.52. In addition to paying for raids against what ICE has labeled “other immigration violator,” taxpayers spend $3.9 million each day to detain undocumented immigrants. Considering the average length of detention, the U.S. will likely pay $187 million to hold all of the undocumented immigrants currently being detained.

“Echoing statements made by HHS, ICE told Yahoo Finance that the agency ‘is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.’”

The report added:

“Along the Southwest Border, CBP has detained hundreds of thousands of adults and children this fiscal year (October 2018 through September 2019) alone. In FY 2019, CBP has detained roughly 594,000 people: 204,248 adults, more than 56,000 children, and nearly 333,000 family units (defined as an adult apprehended with a child). Given that the fiscal year is still ongoing, these numbers continue to increase each day. Adults detained by CBP are kept in facilities for an average of 20.5 days meaning that so far this year, $529.7 million was spent to keep adults in shelters that the IG described as ‘overcrowded’ and posing a risk to the health and safety of those in custody.

“But it is when considering all the adults, families, and unaccompanied children apprehended by Border Patrol this fiscal year that the total cost of the crisis comes into sharper focus. Using the daily bed rate and the average length of detention, the detention costs of everyone apprehended by Border Patrol this year ranges from just under $5 billion, to as high as $13.8 billion this fiscal year so far.|

‘The cruelty is the goal’

The report said:

“But if these costs are high, it’s not being reflected in the level of care given to those being detained. Border Patrol’s own ‘TEDS Standards’ requires that CBP make a ‘reasonable’ effort to provide adults with showers after being held for 72 hours. Yet while in Border Patrol custody, the report found, ‘most single adults had not had a shower in CBP custody despite several being held for as long as a month.’

“Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has said that there is “abuse” in the facilities, and that women were drinking water out of toilets. Some adult detention centers were described in the Inspector General’s report as having facilities with “standing room only.”

“The ACLU says that 7 children have died in custody or after being detained; while children recently released from custody drew pictures of themselves in cages. ‘The cruelty is the goal,’ AOC tweeted after her visit. ‘It’s called “deterrence” – a policy stance that if our country inflicts enough pain on refugees, they will think twice before believing America is worth their dreams & aspirations.’

“At the end of June, the House passed a $4.5 billion humanitarian aid package for the crisis at the border, to the objection of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and several Democrats.

“‘This bill — opposed by the Hispanic caucus and nearly 100 Democratic members of the House — will not stop the Trump administration’s chaos and cruelty,’ they said in a statement.

“Many blasted the bill for not including restrictions and protections for migrants.

“‘Only policy change can end cruelty, not blank checks to the status quo,’ AOC said in a tweet.


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