US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog



USHRN demands an end to cruel family separation and inhumane child detention at the US-Mexico border

Jul 3, 2019

PHOENIX - Following alarming reports released in June by a team of independent experts on the inhumane and degrading conditions of Border Patrol facilities where hundreds of child migrants are being detained, the US Human Rights Network released the following statement:

A team of independent experts visiting Border Patrol facilities where child migrants are imprisoned have recently confirmed the gross violation of human rights by the United States government. A group of around ten attorneys, translators, and doctors including Dr. Warren Binford, a professor of law at Willamette University, visited a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas as part of their mandate to ensure the US upholds its obligations under the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, an agreement that set limits on the length of time and conditions under which children can be incarcerated in immigration detention.

At the time of their visit, Dr. Binford and others discovered appalling conditions that appear to be commonplace among Border Facilities in Texas and elsewhere. Some of  their findings included: extreme overcrowding; children who had not showered, changed clothes, washed their hands with soap, or been able to brush their teeth for several weeks; children waking up in the middle of the night with hunger pains due to inadequate food; over one-hundred infants and toddlers left in the care of older detained children (ranging from seven to fifteen years old); a shortage of beds and floor mats, with many children sleeping on cold concrete; fifteen ill children left unsupervised in a quarantine room with inadequate medical care; lice outbreaks and a lack of adequate recourse; influenza outbreak; extreme cold temperatures; aggressive guards punishing children by removing care provisions such as sleeping mats; and, children suffering from sleep deprivation due in part to bright lights being left on for 24-hours a day.

The conditions at Clint and other Border Patrol facilities are inhumane and amount to torture, and cruel and degrading treatment. Physician Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier who visited Ursula Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas described the conditions as being “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.” She was granted access to the facility after five infants were sent to a local neonatal intensive care unit after contracting influenza while in the care of Border Patrol. Dr. Sevier described the situation at McAllen as “intentional mental and emotional abuse.” 

This emergency situation at the border is a flagrant violation of the Flores Settlement which requires children to be held in “safe and sanitary conditions” for a maximum of 72 hours. Flores requires that children be released as promptly as possible to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who must reunite them with their parents or other relatives. According to Dr. Binford’s account, around 85% of the children at the Clint facility had a parent, relative, or other parent-authorized adult in the United States willing and able to care for them. There is no reason why the large majority of detained children must remain in federal custody; it is the government’s lawful duty to reunite these children with their appropriate caregivers immediately.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the “detention of children can undermine their psychological and physical well-being and compromise their cognitive development. Furthermore, children held in detention are at risk of suffering from depression and anxiety, and frequently exhibit symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder such as insomnia, nightmares and bedwetting. There is indeed strong evidence that detention has a profound and negative impact on children’s health and development, regardless of the conditions in which children are held, and even when detained for short periods of time or with their families.” [1] 

There are currently approximately 2,000 children in the custody of Border Patrol during any given week; these children are separated from their parents and relatives; they are regularly imprisoned for several weeks at a time, and they are lacking the most basic care as mandated by both domestic and international law. Since late last year, five young children have already died while detained in or shortly after being released from a US Border Patrol facility. 

The US federal government’s actions are in violation of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Article 10 of the ICCPR states that detainees should be “treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,” while Articles 2 and 16 of the CAT requires States to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture” and “acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The conditions at Border Patrol facilities are likewise in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); Article 25 states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” 

The US Human Rights Network shares the view of the UNHCR that no child should be detained for immigration-related purposes, irrespective of their legal/migratory status or that of their parents. Instead, appropriate care arrangements and community-based programs need to be implemented in the best interest of the child. USHRN echos the UNHCR, insisting that in all matters affecting the child, we must as a nation govern with an ethic of care and not one of enforcement. 

The Network calls on the federal government to first immediately address and rectify the abhorrent conditions at Border Patrol facilities in order to meet the requirements of the Flores Settlement by providing adequate sanitation, safety, and healthcare at a minimum; second, swiftly reunite children detained at Border Facilities and by HHS with their parent(s) or other appropriate relatives/caregivers; and third, end the practice of separating families at the border and the detainment of children by Border Patrol. 

USHRN stands in solidarity with thousands of protestors across the country who engaged in a Day of Action to #CloseTheCamps on July 2; we stand with the survivors of WWII-era Japanese incarceration camps and their descendents who continue to protest the reopening of historic detention centers, warning the public of the trauma inflicted on young children in detention; and members of Jewish communities who have risked arrest to take a stand against the state-sanctioned detention and abuse of migrants at Immigration and Custom Enforcement jails. Most of all, we stand with the children at the border; we stand for their human rights; we advocate for their proper care and for their freedom. We cannot allow the Trump Administration to repeat the worst parts of human history and create new collective traumas. We demand immediate action to end immigrant child detention and family separation at the Southern border.

[1] UNHCR’s position regarding the detention of refugee and migrant children in the migration context.