By DENISE LAVOIE, MARTHA MENDOZA and GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press
For almost two weeks, a 12-year-old migrant girl said she and her 6-year-old sister were held inside a Border Patrol station in Texas where they slept on the floor and some children were locked away when they cried for their parents.
She was one of hundreds of migrant children who have been held this year in holding cells at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) station near El Paso that has come under fire for holding children in squalid and unsanitary conditions.
In a video obtained by The Associated Press, the girl —speaking in Spanish— tells her Minnesota-based attorney Alison Griffith that children were “treated badly” and were not allowed to play or bathe. The girl’s face is not visible on the video to protect her privacy and not jeopardize her immigration case.
El Paso, Texas, attorney Taylor Levy, who worked with the girl’s family, said she and her sister were separated from their aunt when they arrived in the U.S. on May 23. The children, from Central America, were put in the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, Levy said. Their aunt is still being detained.
Levy said the girls’ mother fled an abusive husband and arrived in the U.S. four years ago. She has applied for asylum. The girls stayed behind with their aunt, but the three headed north in May after the girls’ father threatened them, Levy said.
In the video, the girl says that inside the Clint station, she was given pudding, juice and a burrito she could not eat “because it tasted very bad.”
“There are some children, like the age of my sister, they cried for their mother or their father. They cried for their aunt. They missed them,” she said. “They cried and they were locked up.”
The attorneys discussed the case on the condition that the AP not release the girl’s name or her country of origin out of concern for her family’s safety.
Lawyers who visited the Clint facility last month after the girls had already been released said the conditions were perilous, with more than 250 children trying to take care of each other, passing toddlers between them, with inadequate food, water and sanitation.
Customs and Border Protection officials have repeatedly said the agency is “in a crisis mode” with too many immigrants and not enough resources.
CBP gave journalists a tour of the Clint Border Station on June 26, and a congressional delegation headed there Monday.
In a facility designed to temporarily hold 100 adults, there were 117 children when AP visited, well below the 700 children Border Patrol said were detained there at one point earlier this year.
On Friday, a federal judge ordered that an independent monitor appointed last year move “post haste” to improve conditions at Border Patrol stations, where children are supposed to be held just 72 hours. In the Clint station, some had been held almost a month.
Levy said she helped reunite the 12-year-old girl and her sister with their mother. The mother flew to Texas from Minnesota to pick them up on June 3 after a Border Patrol official told her the girls had been repeatedly hospitalized with the flu.
“It was an incredibly difficult reunification. The kids were just highly, highly traumatized,” Levy said.