New allegations of child abuse in Yuma migrant detention center

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On Sunday, the New York Times in conjunction with the El Paso Times published an investigative report on the horrible conditions inside the Clint, Texas migrant detention center. Hungry, Scared and Sick: Inside the Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Tex. (excerpt):

[I]nside the secretive site that is now on the front lines of the southwest border crisis, the men and women who work there were grappling with the stuff of nightmares.

Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children and adults who were being held in cramped cells, agents said. The stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing — people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly. One girl seemed likely enough to try to kill herself that the agents made her sleep on a cot in front of them, so they could watch her as they were processing new arrivals.

“It gets to a point where you start to become a robot,” said a veteran Border Patrol agent who has worked at the Clint station since it was built. He described following orders to take beds away from children to make more space in holding cells, part of a daily routine that he said had become “heartbreaking.”

The little-known Border Patrol facility at Clint has suddenly become the public face of the chaos on America’s southern border, after immigration lawyers began reporting on the children they saw — some of them as young as 5 months old — and the filthy, overcrowded conditions in which they were being held.

* * *

[A] review of the operations of the Clint station, near El Paso’s eastern edge, shows that the agency’s leadership knew for months that some children had no beds to sleep on, no way to clean themselves and sometimes went hungry. Its own agents had raised the alarm, and found themselves having to accommodate even more new arrivals.

The accounts of what happened at Clint and at nearby border facilities are based on dozens of interviews by The New York Times and The El Paso Times of current and former Border Patrol agents and supervisors; lawyers, lawmakers and aides who visited the facility; and an immigrant father whose children were held there. The review also included sworn statements from those who spent time at El Paso border facilities, inspection reports and accounts from neighbors in Clint.

* * *

“I can’t tell you the number of times I would talk to agents and they would get teary-eyed,” said one agent, a veteran of 13 years with Border Patrol who worked at Clint.

Mary E. González, a Democratic state lawmaker who toured the Clint station last week, said that Border Patrol agents told her they had repeatedly warned their superiors about the overcrowded facility, but that federal officials had taken no action.

“They said, ‘We were ringing the alarms, we were ringing the alarms, and nobody was listening to us’ — agents told me that,” Ms. González said. “I genuinely believe that the higher-ups made the Clint situation happen.”

The Sunday morning bobblehead shows all made their programs available to officials of the Trump administration to come on and deny that there was any problem or reason for concern in the migrant detention centers — “Are you going to believe me or your lyin’ eyes?” — following the lead of their “Dear Leader” who Defended Conditions Inside Border Facilities And Said Immigrants Are “Living Far Better” Than At Home. Trump added that if immigrants don’t like the conditions inside the border facilities, they should not come to the U.S.

Here’s a challenge for you “Dear Leader.” If the conditions in these migrant detention centers are like a stay in one of your posh Trump hotels, let’s send your creepy kids to stay in one of these migrant detention centers under the very same conditions and treatment as migrants for one month — no special treatment of favors just because they’re your creepy kids — and have them report back to Congress on what a fabulous time they had. No? I didn’t think so.

The denials of mistreatment, if not human rights abuses of migrants, by these Trump officials on the Sunday morning bobblehead shows flies in the face of an official government report released last Tuesday by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, complete with photos of the conditions inside five migrant detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley.

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On Monday, NBC News published a new exclusive report based upon “significant incident reports” filed by case managers for the Department of Health and Human Services working with migrants in the Yuma migrant detention center. Migrant kids in overcrowded Arizona border station allege sex assault, retaliation from U.S. agents:

The poor treatment of migrant children at the hands of U.S. border agents in recent months extends beyond Texas to include allegations of sexual assault and retaliation for protests, according to dozens of accounts by children held in Arizona collected by government case managers and obtained by NBC News.

A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy held in Yuma, Arizona, said he and others in his cell complained about the taste of the water and food they were given. The Customs and Border Protection agents took the mats out of their cell in retaliation, forcing them to sleep on hard concrete.

A 15-year-old girl from Honduras described a large, bearded officer putting his hands inside her bra, pulling down her underwear and groping her as part of what was meant to be a routine pat down in front of other immigrants and officers.

The girl said “she felt embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing” during the entire process, according to a report of her account.

A 17-year-old boy from Honduras said officers would scold detained children when they would get close to a window, and would sometimes call them “puto,” an offensive term in Spanish, while they were giving orders.

Earlier reports from investigators for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General from the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors in Texas detailed horrific conditions for children and other migrants held in overcrowded border stations where they were not given showers, a clean change of clothes or space to sleep. The reports from the Yuma CBP sector describe similar unsanitary and crowded conditions but go further by alleging abuse and other misconduct by CBP officers.

President Trump has pushed back against reports of poor conditions for children, and Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of DHS, which oversees CBP, has said the reports are “unsubstantiated.”

Excuse me? These are official “significant incident reports” filed by case managers for the Department of Health and Human Services, working with these migrant detainees. This is their professional responsiblity. These government employees have “substantiated” the problems. The only “fake news” are the denials coming out of the Trump administration.

In a statement about the Yuma allegations, a CBP spokesperson said, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection treats those in our custody with dignity and respect and provides multiple avenues to report any allegations of misconduct. … The allegations do not align with common practice at our facilities and will be fully investigated. It’s important to note that the allegation of sexual assault is already under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.”

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Wednesday that the allegations are under investigation and will face multiple reviews.

“Anyone involved in sexual assault or physical harassment like that I would of course expect to be fired not merely disciplined,” he said on MSNBC.

DHS had been sounding the alarm on overcrowding in border facilities for months, resulting in a $4.5 billion emergency funding bill recently passed by Congress. In Yuma, a soft-sided tent facility was opened at the end of June to accommodate overcrowding at the border station.

But in nearly 30 accounts obtained from “significant incident reports” prepared between April 10 and June 12 by case managers for the Department of Health and Human Services, the department responsible for migrant children after they leave CBP custody, kids who spent time in the Yuma border station repeatedly described poor conditions that are not pure byproducts of overcrowding. They reported being denied a phone call, not being offered a shower, sleeping on concrete or outside with only a Mylar blanket, and feeling hungry before their 9 p.m. dinnertime.

One child reported “sometimes going to bed hungry because dinner was usually served sometime after 9 p.m. and by that time she was already asleep,” according to the documents.

All children who gave accounts to case managers had been held at the border station longer than the 72 hours permitted by law [the Flores settlement].

Laura Belous, advocacy attorney for a organization that provides legal services to migrant children, the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, said her group was “horrified and sickened by the allegations of abuse … But unfortunately, we are not surprised.”

“The children that we represent have reported being held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions for days,” said Belous.

“Our clients tell us that they have seen CBP agents kick other children awake, that children do not know whether it’s day or night because lights are left on all the time, and that they have had food thrown at them like they were wild animals.

“Our clients and all migrants deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) — a Trump sycophant and Fox News regular — said on Wednesday that he had visited the Yuma border station in April “and the human condition that I observed in Yuma was the worst state of the human condition I have ever seen in my life.” But Gaetz also said, “I could tell you that the Border Patrol agents and the Homeland Security agents that were there were dealing with conditions that they had not trained for, they were not equipped to handle, and they were doing the very best they could under terrible circumstances.”

Nearly every child interviewed by the HHS case workers after leaving the Yuma border station reported poor sleeping conditions. A 17-year-old boy from Guatemala reported having to sleep outside even though his clothes were wet from having recently crossed a river, likely the Colorado River.

Once he was transferred inside, the conditions were not much better. “He shared that there was not always space on the floor as there were too many people in the room. He further shared that there would be room available when someone would stand up,” his report stated.

Many migrant children said they were either not given a mattress, pillow or blanket to sleep with, or were just given a Mylar blanket instead.

Other children described being scared of the officers and said the officers would get angry if they asked for anything. One child wore soiled underwear for the 10 days he was in the border station because he was afraid to ask the officers for a clean pair, according to one of the reports. Another, a 15-year-old girl from Guatemala, described the food as “gross and cold most of the time.”

HHS referred NBC News to DHS for comment.

In a statement to NBC News, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said, “These allegations are very concerning and need to be fully investigated. The president has denied any problems with these detention centers — despite multiple confirmed reports to the contrary — but it is the Trump administration’s own policies that have contributed to this humanitarian crisis and this lack of accountability.”

Cummings has called on McAleenan to testify about the poor conditions for immigrants at the border.

Ryan Vogel writes today at the Just Security blog, We Treat America’s Wartime Detainees Better Than Migrant Children (snippet):

As Congress and the Trump administration continue to consider options to improve the current situation on the southern border—where migrant children are being separated from their families and guardians, and detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—the stories of mistreatment, neglect, and abuse proliferate. This has led some, including Fox News’s Shep Smith and Just Security’sRyan Goodman to assert that America has treated even its wartime prisoners better than these migrant children. They are right.

If you have any humanity left, give it a read.