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Issue #1875      July 3, 2019

Shut them down

Trump’s prisons for migrant children are “torture chambers”

In the wake of Trump’s threat to begin massive deportation sweeps of migrant families, the inhuman conditions at facilities holding refugee children were brought to light just this past weekend. These nightmarish conditions are far worse, in fact, more atrocious in many respects than previously reported.

Dr Sevier was quoted as saying the holding facilities in McAllen Texas were “torture chambers.”

The ghastly, first-hand account of the conditions was given by lawyers and a board-certified physician, Dr Dolly Lucio Sevier, who visited holding facilities in McAllen, Texas, and the Clint centre, also in that state. Dr Sevier was quoted on Good Morning America on June 24, saying the facilities were “torture chambers.” The team’s descriptions of the conditions facing the children, the youngest of whom was only two and a half months old, can only be classified as horrific.

Dr Sevier, who has a private practice in the area, was given access to the Ursula facility in McAllen, the largest immigrant detention centre in the country, after attorneys found there was a flu outbreak that sent five infants to the neonatal intensive care unit.

After examining 39 children, she described the circumstances for minors as including “extremely cold temperatures; lights on 24 hours a day; no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, or water; and inadequate food.”

Countless numbers of these children are Indigenous from the huge Native ethnicities of Central America. Many, if not most, are monolingual, speaking only their Indigenous languages and have no fluency in Spanish.

All the children she examined were suffering from trauma, and some teens told of having no access to hand washing for their entire time in custody. Dr Sevier characterised these conditions as “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.”

When interviewed by the US ABC News, Sevier said the facility “felt worse than jail.” Indeed, these children are being treated worse than prisoners, worse than animals.

The situation for infants was even more dreadful. Teen mothers in custody told of not having the facilities to wash their babies’ bottles. This is tantamount to slow murder.

“To deny parents the ability to wash their infant’s bottles is unconscionable and could be considered intentional mental and emotional abuse,” Sevier said.

At the Clint facility, conditions were just as abominable as at McAllen. These included infants and toddlers sleeping on cold concrete floors, a lice outbreak in which guards provided two lice combs to 20 children “to work it out,” and punishing children by taking away sleeping mats and blankets (the children are provided only with aluminium foil blankets). At this centre, a two-year-old with no diaper was being cared for by “several other little girls.” This child was observed urinating in his pants in the conference chair in which he was sitting and immediately started crying.

This is not the first report of children taking care of children. Just last week, the Associated Press reported that immigration attorneys told of younger children being left in the care of older children, including a four-year old in the care of an eight-year old.

One of the visiting lawyers, Warren Blinford, stated they wanted to find out “Why these children are dying at a rate that we’ve never seen before.”

According to other mainstream news outlets, the “toddlers are left to fend for themselves.” Sunday morning news reported the children had no beds and no water and were being given frozen food to eat.

The question of just how many children are in detention again comes up and seems to rise with each passing hour. Early on the morning of this writing, June 24, the figure 40,000 was being reported. An hour later, another report put the number at 50,000, while the BBC claimed 60,000 children in custody. Suffice it to say, once again, the true number must be astronomical.

In the meantime, Trump officials maintain that the detained children are not entitled to soap, toothbrushes, or beds. This is insane; it’s fascism in action. The Justice Department is incredibly arguing against providing these basic human amenities. Unbelievably, government attorney Sarah Fabian argued before the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that forcing children to sleep on cold concrete floors in cells is both “safe and sanitary.”

The three judge appellate panel members were stunned by the government’s position. One judge responded, “You’re really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn’t a question of ‘safe and sanitary’ conditions? ... You can’t be safe or sanitary as a human being if you can’t sleep.”

Dr Sevier’s report is the most recent of many horrific accounts to emerge from the detention facilities. Her report was echoed by Holly Cooper, who co-directs the University of California at Davis’s Immigration Law Clinic and represents detained children who said in a recent AP interview, “In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention, I have never heard of this level of inhumanity.”

When will this issue reach the breaking point for the American people? How many more atrocities against these hapless toddlers and youngsters are being covered up by the Trump regime? These “concentration camps,” as Representative. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has described them, must be closed. The sufferings of these helpless children must be brought to an immediate halt.

* Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He was an organiser and delegate to the First and Second Intercontinental Indian Conferences held in Quito, Ecuador and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Recently, he has been an active participant and reporter in the Standing Rock struggle in North Dakota. He is an attorney and is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty. He is also writing a book on the war crimes committed by the US against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war of the late 20th century. He is also the recipient of several Eagle Awards by the Tennessee Native American Eagle Organisation and a former Director of Native American Legal Departments and a Tribal Public Defender.

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