Today, I share a post from Jessica Jones, LIRS Policy Counsel, on her recent visit to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. These facilities were at the epicenter of last summer’s Central American refugee crisis and faced severe criticism for their treatment of children. Jessica reflects on the conditions she observed here:
The first week in June, I had the opportunity to visit Customs and Border Protection facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. The Rio Grande Valley is the same part of South Texas that experienced an unprecedented number of children and families fleeing from Central America and Mexico in 2014. What struck me the most as I walked around the Border Patrol station and the large Central Processing Center is that conditions remain largely the same.
When I first entered, we passed a holding cell filled with boys under the age of 14. They stood, silent testimonials, gazing out at us through a window, while tears dripped down the face of the smallest child. While children are now permitted to stay in a Border Patrol station for a much shorter period before being transferred to the large Central Processing Center for kids and families, the conditions remain incredibly jarring for children. It’s no wonder that children continuously tell LIRS partners that the worst experience in the journey was custody with Border Patrol.
Children are still locked into a holding cell, held closely with other children without the ability to lie down. Children still remain in the cells with nothing to play with or distract themselves with—no crayons, books or toys. Moms with kids were seen either sitting in a crowded holding cell or in front of a monitor clutching a phone to their ear as they try to balance their children on their laps. They can be seen speaking in hushed voices through the phone as they watch the Border Patrol agent on the monitor type away. It’s during this time that a mother is asked why she is leaving, the trauma she or her children may have experienced, and what fear of return she may have.
Once children and families are transferred to the Central Processing Center, conditions improve for children as far as access to showers, clothes, and food. Yet children are still locked up in cage-like pens in a huge warehouse. They still do not get blankets and instead only have the bright foil of the mylar blanket with which to comfort and warm themselves. Meanwhile, children and families are guarded by contractors in military-style uniforms with belts and holsters as they lie on mats. They lay waiting for whatever may be next in their journey to obtain safety in the U.S.
Children deserve better. Both Congress and the Administration can do much to strengthen the funding to CBP to ensure it includes adequate conditions and protections for children. It’s time that children’s security becomes an integral part of our border security. What does it say about our sense of national security if fails to protect the least of these— our children.
LIRS is committed to improving the conditions of children and families in CBP custody. We advocate with members of Congress and President Obama’s Administration, including the Department of Homeland Security, to safeguard the rights and human dignity of all children and families in CBP holding facilities at the border. If you were moved by Jessica’s post, please take a moment to learn more about children in detention and LIRS’s advocacy for children.