A group of lawyers that brought attention last month to the “appalling” conditions at U.S. detention centers where migrant children were being held say border officials barred them from visiting the “sickest” children at one Texas facility, where they were held separately from other children.
“We asked if we could visit with children who were sick and who had been ill for a few days because our understanding was that there was an area of the facility called the ‘sick area’ or the ‘sick ward’ and so, we said we wanted to see those children,” Human Rights Watch U.S. Program Executive Director Nicole Austin-Hillery told Newsweek in an interview published Monday.
“We wanted to see how those children, who are most vulnerable right now, how they are being treated and being cared for,” she said.
She said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents refused to grant the lawyers access to the area.
“We were prohibited from seeing those children and we were told it was for our own safety,” Austin-Hillery said.
“We told them, ‘we don’t care. We’re not concerned about catching a cold,’ ” she said.
Austin-Hillery and other lawyers said in a bombshell Associated Press report last month that hundreds of immigrant children who were separated from their parents or family members were being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas. The lawyers said that flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of each other because of the lack of attention from guards.
A federal judge ordered last week that the Trump administration must allow medical professionals access to detention facilities in the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors holding migrant children in response to the report.
“When I asked when was the last time you bathed, most of them said it had been days. When I asked if they had been given clean clothes, some said they were wearing the clothes that they arrived in,” she told Newsweek. “I asked if they had been brushing their teeth regularly and I was told, no, that they were brushing their teeth but not on a daily basis.”
“Many said they were hungry,” Austin-Hillery added. “There were several who looked like they hadn’t been getting enough sleep. Their eyes were closing.”