New Court Filings Reveal Mistreatment of Migrant Children

For six days after being detained and separated from their mother at the border, Franklin, an 11-year-old Honduran boy, and his seven-year-old brother Byron slept very little and were constantly cold as they huddled under foil-sheet blankets, reports NBC News. 

“They would wake us up at 3 in the morning and we were so tired,” he said, adding that he didn’t know why they would wake all the children up.

“The ham they gave the children was cold and raw.”

Franklin and Byron were among the thousands of children separated from their parents since the “zero tolerance” policy on undocumented immigrants was launched by the Trump administration.

As the court-ordered deadline for reunifying those families passed Thursday, interviews and court filings have revealed a wide range of allegations by migrant adolescents and teens of mistreatment  while in detention.  The allegations include inedible food, brutally cold temperatures with no blankets for all the children, not being informed of their rights, bullying, guards who kick their feet to wake them up, and verbal abuse.

New court filings this month from the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law gave firsthand accounts by more than 200 migrant children and their parents from detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Peter Schey, the executive editor of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation, said the issues the group was seeing at facilities run by Customs and Border Protection were very different than those at locations run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

With regards to CBP, he said his group has seen “a substantial increase in detained children having inadequate access to potable drinking water, edible food, mats and blankets to sleep and access to basic toiletries” as well as overcrowding.

In terms of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Schey said the concerns were increases in psychotropic drugs being given to children without parental consent, children being sent to higher security facilities without a hearing or appeal process, and lengthy detention without steps being taken to release children to parents or other sponsors.

The filings, which list the migrants’ first name and last initial, are part of the ongoing battle between advocates and the government over the treatment of migrant children, based on a set of protections known as the Flores settlement and subsequent court decisions.

On Friday, a federal judge in Los Angeles said she would order an independent monitor to assess the conditions for children at detention centers and border processing centers under the Flores agreement, saying there was a “disconnect” between the administration’s own monitors and the accounts from migrants on the ground.

The center and its partnering organizations are also asking the judge to block the facilities from administering psychotropic drugs, which they have alleged in previous court filings.

Michelle Brané, director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, who had interviewed a number of children , said another issue for the youngest children is that the children are not allowed to touch to comfort each other, and their toys or personal belongings are often taken from them upon apprehension.

“I talked to a 6-year-old little girl, they took her away from her mother and then as she sat there crying they took her doll,” she said.

She said that while ORR shelters are “vast improvements” in what they provide over CBP detention facilities, the shelters were still not equipped to deal with young children separated from their parents versus children who actually came unaccompanied.

“We’re not in this crisis in terms of number of arrivals, but they created a crisis by separating all these children,” she said.

This summary was prepared by Megan Hadley, TCR staff reporter.