The Largest Migrant Shelter Is a House of Horrors, Report Finds
President Trump announced and then quickly called off Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids targeting undocumented immigrants this weekend, but it’s little relief for the migrants already in government custody.
The Texas Tribune reported Sunday that the McAllen, Texas-area Customs and Border Patrol shelter, the largest of its kind in the U.S., was so overcrowded that immigrants were forced to sleep outside. Toby Gialluca, an immigration lawyer, told the Tribune the water in the facility “tastes like bleach,” adding, “It was so bad that the mothers would save any bottled water they could get and use that to mix the baby formula.”
Children don’t have clean clothes, advocates say, and are not receiving sufficient medical care. “Unable to clean themselves, young mothers reported wiping their children’s runny noses or vomit with their own clothing,” the Tribune reported.
The McAllen facility is separate from the Clint, Texas, one that most of the 300 children that were there were moved from, according to reports Monday from the Associated Press, via Texas station KVIA.
“Basic hygiene just doesn’t exist there,” Gialluca told the Tribune. “It’s a health crisis … a manufactured health crisis.”
“More than 144,000 migrants were apprehended or denied entry to the country last month—the largest number in 13 years,” the Tribune reported, adding, “More than half of them were families with children and about 8% were unaccompanied minors. Last month, Texas shelters held more than 5,800 migrant children.”
The agencies responsible for the shelters, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (for adults), and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, say they’re swamped with the influx.
The Trump administration insists there is a “right way” for these migrants to seek asylum, encouraging them to do so at an official port of entry. In a statement following the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin under U.S. custody, the Department of Homeland Security told migrant parents “Please present yourselves at a port of entry and seek to enter legally and safely.”
However, as The Guardian explained in December, appearing at a port of entry is far from a guarantee of fair treatment while a claim is made and processed, much less asylum itself:
Those seeking asylum–like Guatemalan migrants Jakelin and her father–face a difficult task in actually making a claim, something that often forces migrants to instead risk their lives in illegal treks across the desert. This is especially true at the more than 40 smaller border crossings, such as the one nearest to where the Maquins crossed.
The migrants Gialluca spoke with at the McAllen-area shelter told her they had appeared at a port of entry, but that didn’t stop them from ending up in these overcrowded, unhygienic shelters.
The Trump administration does not seem to be in a hurry to address these conditions. During a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing last week regarding conditions at shelters for migrant children, the Trump administration attorney argued the government was “not legally required to provide all of them with such items as soap, toothbrushes and sleeping accommodations,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported. In June 2017, a federal judge ruled the Trump administration was violating a 1997 court settlement that required the government to keep unaccompanied minors in safe and sanitary conditions.
The Trump administration is appealing the 2017 ruling, arguing that the 1997 agreement does not mention the need for the government “to provide minors, in all situations, with sleeping accommodations, toothbrushes, toothpaste, showers, soap, towels and dry clothes,” as long as the facility itself was safe and sanitary, the Chronicle reported. A ruling by the 9th Circuit has not been made.
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