Hundreds of Immigrant Children Are Being Detained in Packed Conditions, Lawyers Say

Immigrant children are being held in facilities that are far overcapacity and densely packed, according to reporting by the AP and CBS News.

One Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in Donna, Texas, had reached 729 percent of its pandemic capacity this month. CBS reported that while the facility was designed to hold 250 people, it was holding more than 1,800 people as of March 2.

“Some of the boys said that conditions were so overcrowded that they had to take turns sleeping on the floor,” Neha Desai, a National Center for Youth Law attorney who has interviewed almost a dozen migrant children currently in the Donna CBP facility, told CBS News. Desai added that a “staggering amount” of those who were detained were “very young children.”

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And, according to the AP, some of those children have been held for a week or more, far past the CBP’s three-day limit for detentions, and in unsanitary conditions, often without access to soap.

“They all said they wanted to shower more and were told they couldn’t,” Desai said.

Another National Center for Youth Law attorney, Leecia Welch, told the AP that she has been disappointed by the Biden administration’s actions, especially because they have promised transparency. Yet when Welch tried to conduct oversight of the detention center, she was denied access, even though under a settlement called the Flores agreement, lawyers are entitled to see the children as well as the conditions they live in.

“It is pretty surprising that the administration talks about the importance of transparency and then won’t let the attorneys for children set eyes on where they’re staying. I find that very disappointing,” Welch said.

The Biden administration has promised they will be different from the Trump administration when it comes to migrants crossing the border, but although the administration is no longer turning children away at the border as Trump did, they are still turning away adults, including asylum seekers, under a pandemic-era policy. They also face the challenge of a surging number of children crossing the border in numbers we haven’t seen since before the pandemic began. According to CPB, the number of children and families crossing the border increased more than 100 percent from January to February, and the number of children crossing alone rose 60 percent.

“Addressing the flow of unaccompanied children crossing our southwest border is an important priority of this Administration and DHS,” the Department of Homeland Security said in response to CBS News. “It requires a whole of government coordinated and sustained response.”

Parents of detained children say that they are distraught. As the parents of a detained four-year-old from Guatemala told the AP that her daughter was crying on the phone from the detention center. “She cried as if something was going on, as if she was scared,” the mother. “I started crying when I heard her that way. It didn’t seem right to me.”

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