The US migrant detention centers
Conditions in which migrants and refugees are being held in the United States are appalling, said the UN human rights chief. “As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of State, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions”, said High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
She stated that according to several UN human rights bodies, detaining migrant children may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that is prohibited under international law. Spelling out that immigration detention is never in the best interests of a child, the OHCHR chief explained that “even for short periods under good conditions” it “can have a serious impact on their health and development”. “Consider the damage being done every day by allowing this alarming situation to continue”, she said.
According to a report by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on the conditions in migrant centres along the southern border, 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. During a tour of an all-male detention center in Texas, the report 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 admitted that the men in custody hadn’t taken a shower in 10 to 20 days.
The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector-General, however, called the overcrowded conditions “a ticking time bomb." USA TODAY has assembled accounts only from the government's own reports as well as that of pediatricians who have toured border facilities first-hand:
“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.
Noting this disturbing, Ms. Bachelet urged the authorities to find non-custodial alternatives for migrant and refugee children and adults. “Any deprivation of liberty of adult migrants and refugees should be a measure of last resort”. If migrants or refugees are detained, the High Commissioner emphasized that it should be for the shortest period – with due process safeguards and under conditions that fully meet all relevant international human rights standards. “The provision of lifesaving assistance is a human rights imperative that must be respected at all times and for all people in need” she said. “It is inconceivable that those who seek to provide such support would risk facing criminal charges”.