By Cameron Gonzales
Over this past week, concern over the conditions in border detention facilities has risen as new information has come out regarding the treatment of migrants. This includes the conditions of adult facilities, as well as those that house the thousands of children separated from their parents, without any real structural plan to reunite the families. The conditions have inspired lawmakers and historians alike to come out and label the centers as concentration camps due to their similarly cruel practices and their consistency with other concentration camps around the world and throughout history. Just recently, Sarah Fabian, a lawyer for the Department of Justice, argued that the DOJ shouldn’t have to provide soap, blankets, toothbrushes or toothpaste for migrant children in order to meet the safe and sanitary standard. Appalled judges pushed back in the recently released video, as the DOJ lawyer struggled to defend her justification of these facilities not providing children with beds, blankets, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap. The American public has heard horror story after horror story, as lawyers detail what they claim is a very dangerous situation for migrants at the border.
So far, 24 migrants have died in custody, with an additional six child deaths among children from the ages of just two years old up to 16 years old. ICE has decided to stop updating their list of migrant deaths, so it is unclear if the number is higher, and by how much. What we do know is that the conditions are bad. The Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security has issued three reports outlining concerns over the poor treatment of migrants as well as the sparse oversight within the facilities. In a 2017 audit, the Inspector General found “problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” They have found dangerous overcrowding in places like the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, where 900 migrants were placed in a cell meant for only 125 people, some migrants having to stay in standing room only conditions for weeks at a time.
Agents running the facilities have been accused of sexually assaulting migrant children, kicking them at night in an effort to force them to stay awake, and sending racist text messages describing migrants as “disgusting subhuman (expletive) unworthy of being kindling for a fire” according to court documents investigating an incident in which a Border Patrol Agent sped up his car in order to hit a migrant, only to lie about it in his own report. Just last Wednesday, lawyers revealed a devastating incident in which children were stripped of their beds and blankets after Border Patrol agents found that the children had lost one of two lice combs given to the entire cell to share. That night, the children were forced to sleep on the cement.
In adult facilities, migrants are being sent to solitary confinement for reasons like having a “deformed leg” and sharing a cup of coffee. Inside, migrants are gouging out their own eyes and slitting their wrists due to the devastating nature of solitary confinement and its irreversible damage on the human brain. In instances where the children are not taken from their parents, it is common practice that a mother and her children are given two bologna sandwiches to ration out for four days. Some days they do not eat at all. Some parentless pre-teens are being forced to care for those younger than them while in facilities that only contain children separated from their parents, as Border Patrol agents have been seen handing off 2-year-olds to the young girls.
The youngest child to be separated from his parents was only four months old. A New York Times report details the devastating story of his families attempt to immigrate and their deportation without their child (however, they were promised the child would be sent with them). The stories of these migrants and their children are devastating, but they must be heard. Just because we cannot see these camps in our everyday lives doesn’t mean they are not happening. Reading about the cries of children in facilities forces me to think of myself in that same situation. I think of the times when I was in elementary school at a friend’s sleepover, when I would call home at midnight, crying, because I missed my parents. I remember when my parents went on a cruise when I was eight. I remember clinging to their clothing as I lay in bed sobbing, waiting impatiently for their return. I cannot imagine how much pain I would have felt if they had been forcefully separated from me, if my tears were met by mocking from the Agents that took me from them. I cannot imagine how much I would have needed them to be there for me if I had to sleep on a cold concrete floor on my second week without showering, missing my shower and bed at home.
We should not dismiss what is happening at the border simply because it hasn’t happened to us. Imagine how you would feel if it were you, imagine your children being ripped away from you, only to be sexually assaulted, sleep deprived and starved in an ice cold cage. Imagine being put into solitary confinement after walking hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of miles to express your legal right to asylum. Imagine leaving your home due to rampant and devastating gang violence that threatens yours and your children’s life only to be driven mad by unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing that you may never see your children again. That is what is happening at the border.