A child lies down on the cold concrete floor in a detention center, shivering under an aluminum foil blanket surrounded by other small bodies in overcrowded cells.
The lights will be on all night. Instead of caregivers, armed guards will watch over them, their faces covered by masks against the unsanitary conditions the children face. In the morning, there will be no soap, no toothbrush, no shower. No fresh food and a breakfast that will leave them hungry. The children will spend most of their day in a cell. If a guard tells them to, they may wind up caring for other children even younger than themselves.
This is no foreign gulag. This is how the U.S. government operates in 2019, while federal lawyers argue in court against any obligation to provide such niceties as soap and a bed because they are under no specific legal mandate to do so.
Lawyers who inspected a detention facility in Texas found conditions that wouldn’t be tolerated in a kennel. Sick children without medical attention. Toddlers without diapers. Holly Cooper, co-director of the California Davis Immigration Law Clinic, told the Associated Press that “in my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention, I have never heard of this level of inhumanity.”
This is more than negligence: It’s a human rights violation. Congress has much on its plate these days in the way of investigations, but congressional hearings on the conditions in federal migrant detention camps for children should, by any decent measure, rocket to the top of the list.
Even Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders, before announcing Tuesday that he would resign, acknowledged in the AP story that children needed better medical care and a place to recover. Overcrowding is endemic at adult facilities too. Sanders said the Border Patrol has 15,000 migrants jammed into facilities designed to hold 4,000.
As the outrage grows, the administration of President Donald Trump is attempting to blame conditions on a lack of funding. If so, Trump and the GOP Senate should support the $4.5 billion in emergency aid passed Tuesday by the House. That seems unlikely, however, given his recent threat to begin costly roundups of immigrant families, who doubtless would be sent into already overcrowded facilities as they await deportation. It also raises the question of to why officials at the camps are turning away donations from kindhearted Americans who have attempted to deliver soap, sheets, toys and diapers. Recall that this is a president who threatened to use his emergency power to raid federal pots of money for his border wall. If hundreds of children kept in barbarous conditions is not an emergency, what is?
After the stories broke, immigration officials moved 300 children from one of the worst facilities, only to move 100 back a day later, claiming the overcrowding had been alleviated. That won’t do. The camps should be inspected by neutral third parties, reporters and health care professionals.
Among those denouncing the conditions was Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chairman. “This is clearly documented abuse,” he said in a TV interview. “It’s clearly documented inhumanity to fellow human beings that’s going on in these centers, and we as citizens need to account for that.”
It’s not enough to blame an administration that has made immigrants a scapegoat. It’s incumbent on all of us, as citizens, to account for what is being done to helpless children — and to end the abuse.