---------- Some Are In 'cages.' Others Sleep On Concrete. Sick, Hungry Migrant Children Aren't Only Just In Notorious Texas Facility ~ welcome

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Some Are In 'cages.' Others Sleep On Concrete. Sick, Hungry Migrant Children Aren't Only Just In Notorious Texas Facility

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is calling on Congress to come up with a "unified package" to help fund the care of unaccompanied children being held at the southern border. (June 24) AP, AP
MEXICALI, Mexico -- Alba Macario of Guatemala said her 2-year-old daughter Suriana nearly died while they were detained in a processing facility in Calexico, California, for more than a week in May.
“The immigration officials treat people as if they are animals,” said Macario, 25, Tuesday as she sat on the floor of a shelter in in Mexicali, weeks after she had been released by U.S. authorities and sent back to Mexico. “I saw how my daughter almost died in my arms and they couldn’t do anything.” 
Migrant families, activists and attorneys said this week that the abuse of child migrants remains widespread in immigration detention across the U.S. The most recent outcry comes after attorneys reported children and infants were found sick and left in soiled clothing at a Border Patrol station southeast of El Paso in Clint, Texas.
But critics say children are being put at risk at various other federal facilities, as well, where they can go cold, hungry, thirsty and without adequate medical care. The lack of resources follows vows from the Trump administration to overhaul its policies after the deaths of seven migrant children in federal custody over the last year.
Amid rising anger nationally about how migrant children are treated, Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders resigned Tuesday. President Donald Trump said he was “very concerned” about conditions at migrant detainee facilities and while he did not ask Sanders to resign, he “knew” a change was coming at the top of the agency.
Families interviewed by USA TODAY Network reporters and held by the U.S. worry these conditions could have lasting affects on their children. 
While they were detained, there were so many women and children in the cell, Macario said, that she spent two nights trying in vain to sleep while standing and holding her daughter. Many children developed fevers and coughs, including her daughter, she said.
Esperanza Panameño had a similar experience while in U.S. custody. The Salvadoran woman nursed her sick 7-month-old son back to health Tuesday at the Good Shepherd shelter for migrants in Ciudad Juárez, three miles away from the U.S. border, days after she was released and sent to Mexico. 
At left, Alba Macario, of Guatemala, and her two-year-old child Suriana get ready to begin their day at a shelter for migrants in Mexicali, Mexico. Macario claims that her child nearly died while they were in detention at a processing facility in Calexico, California, in May 2019. Macario and her two daughters are currently living in a shelter in Mexicali after being returned under the Migrant Protection Protocols policy. (Photo: Omar Ornelas/The Desert Sun)
She said she endured five harrowing days last week in Border Patrol detention in El Paso, Texas, with her three children -- a 12-year-old son, six-year-old daughter and the baby boy. Their father, Carlos Salinas, was detained separately. Both parents described being held in cold, overcrowded cells with little or no access to water, basic hygiene or food. 
“You couldn't even walk for all the people on the floor,” said Panameño, 34, her baby coughing at her breast. “Everyone got sick.”
USA TODAY couldn’t independently confirm Panameño’s and Macario’s experiences while they were detained, but their description of border detention conditions echoed many other recent accounts from migrants and attorneys, as well as from the government’s own watchdog agencies, including the Office of the Inspector General.
Alba Macario, of Guatemala, carries her two-year-old child Suriana. Macario claims that her child nearly died while they were in detention at a processing facility in Calexico, California, in May 2019. Macario and her two daughters are currently living in a shelter in Mexicali after being returned under the Migrant Protection Protocols policy. (Photo: Omar Ornelas/The Desert Sun)
“The overwhelming majority of children are asylum seekers,” said Elora Mukherjee, a New York-based immigration attorney who interviewed children detainees at the Clint Border Patrol station near El Paso last week. “They are already fleeing from the worst trauma we can imagine. To be detained in conditions like this compounds the trauma.”
Elissa Steglich, a University of Texas law professor, was part of a separate team of attorneys that visited eight CBP detention facilities in south Texas in early June and interviewed dozens of migrant children and their parents. The detainees reported being fed the same meal of a lukewarm burrito and apple every day, spending 18 days locked up without seeing daylight, wearing the same clothes for days or weeks and having no access to a toothbrush or basic hygiene, she said.
Pepper Black, a volunteer for the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, said she and other volunteers hear similar stories repeatedly from migrants. Migrants go to the center after being released from federal custody to clean up from their long journey and make travel arrangements to their final U.S. destinations.
Last week, one female migrant recounted how no one would help when her baby threw up on her at a federal detention facility, Black said. Later, an official gave her a Mylar blanket to wrap the baby in, she said. “Over and over again, we hear these horrific stories,” Black said.
Lawyers recall children kept in 'cages'
Attorneys visited CBP detention facilities over the past 10 days under the Flores settlement agreement -- which governs how detained immigrant children and families should be treated in custody. They described troubling scenes of malnourished infants and children kept in cells described as “cages,” said Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School in New York City. She was part of a team allowed to visit the facility.
None of the children she spoke with had been allowed to shower or clean up since crossing the border and many were still in clothes stained with mucus or urine, she said. Many slept on concrete floors with no blankets.
“Never before have I seen conditions as degrading and inhumane as I witnessed in Clint, Texas,” she said. “The children were hungry, dirty, sick, scared.”
The detained children ranged in ages from four months to 17 years old, and attorneys spoke to more than 60 of them. All had crossed the border with an accompanying adult – a grandmother, aunt or older sibling – and had been separated by federal immigration agents, she said. Some of the detainees were teenage mothers cradling infants.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, told USA TODAY she has hosted lawmakers in her El Paso district to see the conditions. But when news broke about appalling conditions at the Clint facility, her staffers tried to visit and were initially refused entry.
“The urgency of now and of today is children sleeping on concrete floors, children whose T-shirts are covered in mucus,” she said.
Under CBP’s own policies, children immigrant detainees are not supposed allowed to be held in immigration custody for more than 72 hours. Mukherjee said many of the detained children she spoke with had been there for days and, in some cases, weeks.
Neither Steglich, Mukherjee, nor the other attorneys were allowed to tour the facilities. Tthey were able to choose the names of children they wished to interview from a roster of detainees. The children then met with the lawyers in interview rooms and described their living conditions at the facility.
Mukherjee said her team of attorneys tried to gain access to a section of the facility that was quarantined off due to a flu outbreak. But the lawyers were only allowed to speak to three of the children in quarantine via telephone as guards hovered nearby the children.
A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle passes a 'Border Patrol Access Only' sign near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 26, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) John Sanders submitted his resignation in the wake of a scandal after lawyers reported that detained migrant children were held unbathed and hungry in a U.S. Border Patrol facility in nearby Clint, Texas. (Photo: Mario Tama, Getty Images)
Waves of migrant families arriving at the border
U.S. immigration authorities announced in December they would perform thorough medical checks on nearly every child in Border Patrol custody after several children died.
Macario said Suriana saw doctors twice while in detention and both times they gave her medicine -- a red syrup. But as Suriana’s condition worsened, the little girl vomited repeatedly and stopped eating. And still they were detained -- eight days without bathing, she said.
Macario said her daughter's illness progressed until one day, the child laid on the ground and hardly moved. She said she scooped up the little girl and cradled her.
The women in the cramped cell started banging on the door to get the officials’ attention, Macario said. “The girl is dying!” the women called out, she said.
A border agent arrived and saw the girl limp in Macario’s arms, she said.
“There’s nothing we can do now,” Macario said he told her. “That’s the answer they gave me.”
Panameño told USA TODAY that while in detention she spoke with someone she described as “a lawyer or a social worker” and she complained to the person that there was no food for babies. She said she and her children went four days without a toothbrush.
Miguel Garcia, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector, said the agency “can’t comment specifically on any one specific incident coming from an unknown source.” He said all children ages 17 and under receive a mandatory health screening by a nurse or doctor upon arrival and that medical professionals are on site and available at all hours of the day.
Border Patrol agents detained 109,144 migrants in April, the highest monthly total since 2007, and the second straight month where more than 100,000 migrants were taken into custody. The Texas border, especially, has been overwhelmed by waves of migrant families and unaccompanied children in recent months, many of whom are seeking asylum. 
Border Patrol officials are expected to turn over unaccompanied minors to the Department of Health and Human Services for care and transfer to sponsors in the U.S. But the government agency, too, says it is overwhelmed.
Unaccompanied minors “are waiting too long in CBP facilities that are not designed to care for children,” Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement this week. 
Brian Hastings, Border Patrol’s chief of the law enforcement operations directorate, contradicted reports about harsh conditions at detention facilities for children during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., prompted the exchange when she asked about squalid conditions in Border Patrol facilities in Clint, as well as in McAllen and El Paso in Texas and a private facility in Homestead, Florida.
Hastings said all facilities across the southwest border are provided a variety of hygiene products, despite the facilities not being built to house children. “We provide three meals – hot meals – a day and snacks are unlimited to those who want them,” Hastings added.
“You do understand that that is in direct contradiction with news reports that we have been reading, and from what lawyers who have visiting these children are telling us,” Hassan said.
Hastings suggested that the reports couldn’t be trusted. “Those are the plaintiffs' attorneys,” Hastings said.
An unforgettable nightmare for families
The children’s plight served as background to an immigration debate unfolding this week in Congress, as House lawmakers approved Tuesday night a $4.5 billion spending bill to provide humanitarian assistance along the southern border. Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate were at the same time debating how to move forward with their own spending bill. Trump has threatened to veto the House version.
Macario, who is seeking asylum and hopes to reunite with her husband in Memphis, has been waiting on the Mexican side of the border under the “Migrant Protection Protocols” program that requires some asylum applicants to wait in Mexico until their cases are heard in the United States. She had her first hearing in San Ysidro, California on June 10 and said she plans to attend her second court date in August.
Macario said if her daughter survived the immigration facility it was because of her own prayers.
“For me,” she said, “it was a nightmare that I’m never going to forget.”
USA TODAY NETWORK reporters Bart Jansen in Washington, D.C., Rick Jervis in McAllen, Texas and Rebecca Plevin in Mexicali, Mexico contributed to this report. 
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/06/26/border-patrol-hungry-migrant-children-texas-clint-trump-republicans-mexico-parents/1568151001/


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