US treatment of migrant children is deeply inhumane

The entrance of a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas where 250 migrant children were moved from this week. Cedar Attanasio / AP
The entrance of a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas where 250 migrant children were moved from this week. Cedar Attanasio / AP

They are the kind of conditions one would expect in a poverty-stricken developing country. Children as young as seven, filthy and starving, are having to look after babies and toddlers. Spaces designed to hold 35 people are being filled with five times that number, with standing room only. Sick and unwashed, migrant children separated from their parents are being locked in cells and cages for hours every day. Yet these horrifying scenes are from the richest country on earth and they are being experienced daily in patrol stations along the US-Mexico border.

Not only is the US administration failing in its most basic duty of care to provide for its most vulnerable wards but its lawyers have even argued in court that authorities are not obliged to provide soap, toothbrushes or beds. US Border Patrol claims it is holding 15,000 migrants in facilities designed for 4,000, among them hundreds of unaccompanied minors.

Their treatment flouts the Flores Agreement, signed in 1997 under the Clinton administration and named after Jenny Flores, a 15-year-old girl from El Salvador who tried to illegally cross the border. Her treatment, which included daily strip searches, triggered such revulsion that it sparked national policy on the provision of basic care and facilities for children in detention. That mandate is being failed all along the border in overcrowded, dirty cells, exposed by a group of lawyers allowed access to border patrol stations.

After conditions were revealed, 250 “severely neglected” migrant children were moved from an overcrowded facility in Clint, Texas, this week. But that is simply the tip of the iceberg. At least seven children have died in US custody, leading to criticism of the conditions they were being held in. More than 300,000 people were arrested at the border between January and April this year, with numbers rising every month, putting pressure on already cramped “holding pens”.

US President Donald Trump has vowed to take a hard line on immigration and strictly enforce border security. Vowing to crack down on immigration might be an easy vote-winner in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election but separating children from their families and keeping them in such conditions lacks humanity and compassion. No child should be forced to endure such treatment in a country with a flourishing economy and with a claim to be a world leader.

Updated: June 25, 2019 06:15 PM


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