A 16-year-old mother sleeps with her baby on a cement floor. A 12-year-old wakes up in the middle of the night from hunger. A 5-year-old is sick and has no socks. An 11-year-old cries in a cell, and is only let outside for a few minutes each day.
These are some of the stories collected by a group of attorneys who interviewed more than 60 minors at U.S. Border Patrol facilities in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley sector over the past few weeks. They provide a horrifying portrait of life in detention, where toddlers and children sleep on concrete under bright lights and are not properly fed, allowed to bathe or brush their teeth.
“The declarations paint a picture of wanton disregard for the safety and welfare of children in their care,” said Hope Frye, an immigration lawyer who spoke with migrant kids. “There is a complicity across Customs and Border Protection in the systematic persecution of children and the cruel and inhuman circumstances in which they are kept.”
ASSOCIATED PRESS Central American adults and children stand imprisoned in a pen erected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas, on March 27, 2019.
On Wednesday, the lawyers involved in the Flores settlement, an agreement that outlines child welfare standards in detention, filed a temporary restraining order in federal court. It would force the government to allow the facilities to be inspected by public health professionals and staffed by medical professionals.
On Friday, a judge ruled that the government and Flores lawyers must address the conditions in mediation run by an independent monitor who is tasked with making sure the Trump administration complies with the settlement.
The emergency order comes amid a national discussion about the horrific conditions in Border Patrol facilities, which some experts have recognized as concentration camps. The crisis has intensified as record numbers of children and families cross the border, and facilities have shut down temporarily or quarantined children because of flu outbreaks.
Since December, five children have died in Border Patrol custody.
A Customs and Border Protection official told HuffPost that “as a matter of policy, CBP does not comment on ongoing or pending litigation.”
While the Trump administration is focused on border security and detaining families for longer periods of time, kids told lawyers they felt desperate, sick and neglected in Border Patrol facilities. Here are some of their stories from the court filing, in their own words.
The Canadian Press An autopsy report confirmed that an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol on Christmas Eve succumbed to a flu infection. “I have shoes but no socks.” ― A 5-year-old from Honduras
“The immigration agents separated me from my father right away. I was very frightened and scared. I cried. I have not seen my father again.
I have been at this facility for several days. I have not been told how long I have to stay here. I am frightened, scared, and sad.
I have had a cold and cough for several days. I have not seen a doctor and I have not been given any medicine. It is cold at night when we sleep. I have shoes but no socks.”
“My baby and I slept directly on the cement.” ― A 16-year-old mother from El Salvador
“Two hours after we crossed, we met Border Patrol and they took us to a very cold house. They took away our baby’s diapers, baby formula, and all of our belongings.
After that they took us to a place with a tent. Up until this point, our family was kept together, but here they took our daughter and me out of the cell and separated my fiancé from us. Our [one-year-old] baby was crying. We asked the guards why they were taking our family apart and they yelled at us.
After that we stayed in a room with 45 other children. There was no mat so my baby and I slept directly on the cement.
I have been in the U.S. for six days and I have never been offered a shower or been able to brush my teeth. There is no soap here and out clothes are dirty. They have never been washed. My daughter is sick and so am I.”
Every night my sisters keep asking me, ‘When will our mommy come to get us?’ I don’t know what to tell them. 12-year-old from Ecuador “I’m hungry all the time.” ― A 12-year-old from Guatemala
“The guards were mean and scary. They yelled at us. One day the guards wanted to know if anyone had snuck food in the cell. They found one kid who was about 15 or 16 years old who had a burrito, pudding, and juice. The officials handcuffed his wrists.
I’m so hungry that I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with hunger. I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me. In the morning we get oatmeal, pudding, and juice. In the afternoon we get soup, a cookie, and juice. For dinner we get a burrito, pudding and juice.
I saw a child ask for more food once and the guard told him ‘No, you’ve had your ration.’ Sometimes the younger kids get an extra chocolate pudding. I need more food too.”
“The officials here are very bad to us.” ― A 12-year-old from Ecuador
“The officers took everything from us except our documents. They even took our shoelaces. There was a mother in our group traveling with a very young baby. The officers took her diapers, baby formula, and nearly everything else she had and threw it away.
The water here is horrible. It tastes like chlorine. We can use cups to drink the water. But the water tastes awful and I don’t like it at all. None of the kids here like the water.
The officials here are very bad to us. During the night when we’re trying to sleep they come in and wake us up, yelling and scaring us. Sometimes children rise up in the night and officials yell at them to lay back down. The guards who are yelling don’t speak much Spanish, so it’s hard to understand what they’re saying. My sisters and I are very scared when they yell at us and other children.
Every night my sisters keep asking me, ‘When will our mommy come to get us?’ I don’t know what to tell them. It’s very hard for all of us to be here.”
ASSOCIATED PRESS Children lie on floor mats at a facility in McAllen, Texas, on June 17, 2018. A year later, migrants still describe sleeping on floors under bright lights that shine 24/7, with nothing but Mylar blankets to keep warm. “Who wants to take care of this little boy?” ― A 15-year-old from El Salvador
“A Border Patrol agent came in our room with a two-year-old boy and asked us, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy?’ Another girl said she would take care of him, but she lost interest after a few hours so I started taking care of him yesterday. His bracelet says he is two years old.
I feed the 2-year-old boy, change his diaper, and play with him. He is sick. He has a cough and a runny nose and scabs on his lips. He was coughing last night so I asked to take him to see the doctor and they told me that the doctor would come to our room, but the doctor never came. The little boy that I am taking care of never speaks. He likes for me to hold him as much as possible.
Since arriving here, I have never been outside and never taken a shower.”
“My baby was naked with no blanket.” ― A 16-year-old mother from Honduras
“We were put into a three sided cage with the fourth side open to the outside filled with loads of people. We had to wait for someone to stand up and quickly take their place on the ground.
My [8-month-old] baby was naked outside with no blanket for all four days we were there. We were freezing. My baby couldn’t sleep because the ground was cement with rocks and everytime she moved the sharp ground would scratch her. There were many pregnant women who had to sleep on rocks and I felt very badly for them.
My baby began vomiting and having diarrhea. I asked to see a doctor and they did not take us. I asked again the next day and the guard said ‘She doesn’t have the face of a sick baby. She doesn’t need to see a doctor.’
Since we arrived here my baby has lost a lot of weight. Her pants are very loose now. She is not sleeping because she is sick, and it is very loud. She cries a lot and is listless.”
My [8-month-old] baby was naked outside with no blanket for all four days we were there. We were freezing. 16-year-old mother from Honduras “We cry a lot.” ― 11-year-old from El Salvador
“We are being held in a cold cell. We sleep on the floor on mats with blankets. I have only been permitted to take a shower twice in the almost two weeks we’ve been here. We’ve been allowed to brush our teeth once.
About three days ago I got a fever. They moved me alone to a flu cell. There is no one to take care of you there. They just give you pills twice a day. I also am having an allergic reaction all over my skin. My skin is itchy and red and my nose is stuffed up. Two times they gave me a pill for it but not anymore.
They let us out of our cell twice a day for a few minutes but other than that we just sit there. We cry a lot and the other kids in the cell also cry. It’s so ugly to be locked up all the time.”
“None of the adults take care of us.” ― A 15-year-old who didn’t specify their country of origin
“I started taking care of a [little girl] in the Ice Box after they separated her from her father. I did not know either of them before that. She was very upset. The workers did nothing to try to comfort her. I tried to comfort her and she has been with me ever since.
She sleeps on a mat with me on the concrete floor. We spend all day every day in that room. There are no activities, only crying. We eat in the same area. We can only go outside to go to the bathroom. We don’t have any opportunities to go outside to do activities or anything. There is nothing to do. None of the adults take care of us so we try to take care of each other.”