Many Moms Say Children’s Health Worsened in Immigration Custody

Sep 4, 2019
3:45 PM

By COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many mothers detained in border stations this summer reported the health of their children worsened while in custody, recounting bouts of fever, diarrhea and respiratory illness they say were not properly treated, according to a nonprofit legal group’s questionnaire of 200 detained women.

The Dilley Pro Bono Project handed out a 13-question survey, mostly in Spanish, to mothers detained in June and July who were seeking their services, according to a copy of their report.

The women had entered the U.S. between May and July and were detained in border facilities before being transferred to a family detention center in Dilley, Texas.

A crush of migrant families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has strained the system managed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Border officials have said for months they were overwhelmed and needed more money. Since the deaths of children in custody, more medical staff and medical checks have been added.

The agency did not immediately return a request for comment about the latest report.

While detainment is down as of September, over the spring and summer months there were often more than 15,000 people in custody; some 4,000 is considered a crisis.

Reports of squalid conditions inside border facilities prompted renewed outrage and calls for reform. Children were being detained much longer than three days, the limit, because of clogs up and down the system.

Border numbers are declining after a crackdown by Mexico at its own border, in the wake of a threat of increased tariffs by President Donald Trump and a ramped-up U.S. policy that turns asylum-seekers back to Mexico.

Most of the mothers said their child was not seen by a medical provider, though many reported kids with fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

One mother said she arrived with her 3-year-old daughter who was soaking wet. There were no dry clothes, so the child slept in the cold facility with wet clothing and woke with fever and congestion. They were transferred but the girl was still sick weeks later.

A woman who crossed with her 11-year-old child near McAllen, Texas, said her daughter was placed in a cell across from her. She noticed one day that no one new was coming in—and officials told her it was because an epidemic of a flu-like illness washing over the group. Mothers tended to babies sick with diarrhea without enough fresh diapers; others had newborns and tried to keep them safe from illness. No one was allowed to shower for at least five days, some women reported, even after their children were vomiting.

The mothers and their children reported spending an average of four days inside border facilities before they were transferred to the family residential center in Texas. The center can house up to 2,400 people and the questionnaire did not deal with conditions there.

Lawyers for the project have asked Homeland Security Department’s inspector general to investigate.

“We will continue to urge the agencies to conduct an immediate investigation and take all necessary steps to ensure that CBP is conforming with their own internal guidance and medical and child welfare principles,” said Katie Shepherd, National Advocacy Counsel at the Immigration Justice Campaign. “The lives of hundreds or thousands of immigrant children depend upon it.”

The Dilley Pro Bono project is an initiative of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. and other partners.