They describe migrant detention cells as cages. Teen mothers just want clean clothes for their babies. Others say their children need to see doctors.
A scared 5-year-old boy separated from his dad pleads for medicine for his cough.
Some detainees make the most basic requests: a blanket, toothbrush, soap, a bite to eat, somewhere to wash their hands. One boy says a modicum of solace would go a long way.
“I am in a room with dozens of other boys,” the 17-year-old told lawyers representing the migrant children. “Some have been as young as 3 or 4 years old. Some cry. Right now, there is a 12-year-old who cries a lot. Others try to comfort him. One of the officers makes fun of those who cry.”
These are a few stories gathered earlier this month by lawyers for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which is asking a federal judge to hold President Donald Trump’s administration in contempt and order immediate improvements at the child detention facilities.
The lawyers identified the children only by age, gender and nationality in most cases. Many of the youths say they’re trying to reach family members living in the United States.
Crowded conditions are a common theme, and many children relay that day after day they receive the same meals of yogurt, oatmeal, soup, cold sandwiches, juice, burritos and cookies. They complain of a lack of vegetables.
Some mothers say their babies received formula, while a handful say the formula made their babies sick.
Though the lawsuit cites centers in El Paso, Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley, the lawyers’ batch of anecdotes include stories from a US Customs and Border Protection facility in McAllen, Texas, and from the Clint, Texas, facility that reporters were allowed to tour Wednesday.
While border patrol officials showed the journalists pallets of food, boxes of toiletries and children playing soccer and braiding hair, a CBP source with firsthand knowledge of the facility told CNN, “Typical. The agency prepped for you guys.”
The stories vary, with an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy telling the lawyers that while he has not showered or changed clothes and he endures crowded conditions at the Clint facility, the kids are able to play and draw and get three meals a day.
“There are always cookies, but the food does not fill you up and I am hungry. I can go to the bathroom when I need to (it is in the room) and there is soap and water to wash my hands. I am not scared. No one scolds me or is mean here. It is OK, but I want to see my parents.”
A 12-year-old Guatemalan boy’s story paints a far different portrait of conditions: “I’m hungry here at Clint all the time. I’m so hungry that I have woken up in the middle of the night with hunger. Sometimes I wake up from hunger at 4 a.m., sometimes at other hours.
“I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me.”
Here are more stories chronicled by the lawyers:
• Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who interviewed 39 children: “The conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities. That is, extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water or adequate food. … All 39 detainees had no access to hand-washing during their entire time in custody, including no hand-washing available after bathroom use.”
• Honduran mother, age redacted, at Ursula detention facility in McAllen: “I have been here without bathing for 21 days. I have seen that when we try to complain about the conditions, then the (officers) want to know what we said. Then they start yelling at us, saying things like, ‘You don’t belong here,’ ‘Go back to where you came from,’ ‘You are pigs,’ ‘You came here to ruin my country.’ They try to intimidate us. I have seen officers hit other detainees in the stomach.”