Last week, it was reported that dozens of children living in migrant detention centres did not have access to basic sanitary supplies such as soap and toothpaste.
Lawyers who visited facilities described squalid conditions to the Associated Press. The conditions at the station in Clint, Texas, included inadequate food, lack of medical care and older children trying to care for toddlers.
In one case, attorneys said a two-year-old boy without a diaper was being watched by older kids. Several had the flu. Many were separated from extended family members like aunts and uncles who had brought them to the border; others were teenage moms with babies.
There have also been deaths at the detention centres.
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Six children have died since last year after being detained by border agents. At least two are believed to have died of complications from the flu, including a 16-year-old who was left to sleep on a concrete bench inside a Border Patrol station.
Trump has taken a hard-line approach to border policies, and has asked Mexico to help curb the flow of migrants to the U.S. border.
On Saturday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement delayed a long-planned operation to sweep U.S. cities and arrest hundreds of people accused of flouting orders to leave the country, days after Trump’s tweets about the operation alarmed immigrant families and advocates.
All this has raised questions about the president’s changing policies on migrants and why he is continuing the practice of keeping migrants in these detention centres. Some say it is to send a strong message to potential migrants and smugglers — one that may not actually be reaching them.
“This administration has shifted policies in the last year or so every couple of months — sometimes every couple of weeks — and that has raised lots of concerns because nobody knows what to expect,” Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute told Global News.
“That message is going back through the smugglers, and it’s going back from the networks of people from those countries that live in the United States with the opposite effect of what the administration is intending.”
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Rather than smugglers and potential migrants heeding these warnings, Meissner says many think “we’d better get there now because we don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
John Sandweg, a former acting director of U.S. immigration and customs enforcement, explained to Global News that the current detention facilities weren’t designed to hold migrants, especially children, for long periods of time.
Sandweg said that about four years ago, more undocumented migrants began coming to the country, and that should have led to a new approach.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is currently apprehending tens of thousands of parents and children weekly. It recorded 84,500 apprehensions of adults and children travelling together in May.
“We didn’t, in the U.S., pivot our detention apparatus,” Sandweg said. “We continued to apply this approach where we utilize facilities that were designed for adults to be held for no more than 24 hours, and now we have children in those.”
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He noted that the U.S. continues to see migration as a security issue rather than a humanitarian one.
“What you get as a result is longer-term detention, facilities that are inadequate, and then the basics start to slip like toothbrushes, blankets and basic essentials,” he said.
Sandweg said that the U.S. has a “basic duty of care” toward migrants — and that doesn’t mean compromising security.
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Those who pose threats can still be removed, he noted.
“The overwhelming majority of these people pose neither a flight risk or a public safety risk to the United States. We shouldn’t be spending billions of dollars detaining them, especially when we’re not able to do it in a healthy and humane way.”
—With files from Global News reporter Jackson Proskow, the Associated Press, Reuters
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