Mi­grants com­plain of poor con­di­tions at hold­ing cen­ters

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Cedar Attanasio

EL PASO, Texas — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion faces grow­ing com­plaints from mi­grants about se­vere over­crowd­ing, mea­ger food and other hard­ships at bor­der hold­ing cen­ters, with some peo­ple at an en­camp­ment in El Paso be­ing forced to sleep on the bare ground dur­ing dust storms.

The Bor­der Net­work for Hu­man Rights is­sued a re­port Fri­day based on dozens of tes­ti­mo­ni­als of im­mi­grants over the past month and a half, pro­vid­ing a snap­shot of cramped con­di­tions and pro­longed stays in de­ten­tion amid a record surge of mi­grant fam­i­lies com­ing into the U.S. from Cen­tral Amer­ica.

The re­port comes a day af­ter an ad­vo­cate de­scribed find­ing a teenage mother cradling a pre­ma­ture baby in­side a Bor­der Pa­trol pro­cess­ing cen­ter in Texas. The ad­vo­cate said the baby should have been in a hospi­tal, not a fa­cil­ity where adults are kept in large fenced-in sec­tions that crit­ics de­scribe as cages.

“The state of hu­man rights in the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der­lands is grave and is only get­ting worse,” the im­mi­grant rights group said in its re­port. “Peo­ple are dy­ing be­cause of what is hap­pen­ing.”

Five im­mi­grant chil­dren have died since late last year af­ter be­ing de­tained by the Bor­der Pa­trol, in­clud­ing a flu-stricken teenager who was found dead in a fa­cil­ity mi­grants re­fer to as the “ice­box” be­cause of the tem­per­a­tures in­side.

Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion re­sponded to the com­plaints by say­ing: “Al­le­ga­tions are not facts. If there is an is­sue it is best to con­tact CBP di­rectly.”

The agency also cited its re­sponse to a crit­i­cal in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port last month, in which it said the gov­ern­ment is de­voted to treat­ing mi­grants in its cus­tody “with the ut­most dig­nity and re­spect.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has blamed the wors­en­ing cri­sis on in­ac­tion by Congress.

Many of the com­plaints cen­ter on El Paso, where the in­spec­tor gen­eral found se­vere over­crowd­ing in­side a pro­cess­ing cen­ter. A cell de­signed for a dozen peo­ple was crammed with 76.

With in­door fa­cil­i­ties over­crowded, the Bor­der Pa­trol has kept some im­mi­grants out­side and in tents near a bridge in El Paso with noth­ing but a My­lar foil blan­ket. Oth­ers have been kept in an empty park­ing lot, where mi­grants hud­dled un­der­neath tarps and foil blan­kets re­pur­posed as shade covers against the swel­ter­ing heat.

A pro­fes­sor who vis­ited re­cently said it re­sem­bled a “hu­man dog pound.” The Bor­der Pa­trol re­sponded by adding ad­di­tional shade struc­tures, but mi­grants are still kept out­side in tem­per­a­tures ap­proach­ing 100 de­grees.

Mi­grants in El Paso and else­where also com­plained of in­ad­e­quate food. Women said they were de­nied fem­i­nine hy­giene prod­ucts.

An­other com­plaint is that mi­grants are kept in de­ten­tion be­yond the 72hour limit set by Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

The teenage mother with the pre­ma­ture baby, for ex­am­ple, spent nine days in Bor­der Pa­trol cus­tody af­ter cross­ing the Rio Grande with her new­born, ac­cord­ing to a le­gal ad­vo­cate who vis­ited the girl in a McAllen, Texas, pro­cess­ing cen­ter.

An ex­o­dus of peo­ple flee­ing poverty, drought and vi­o­lence in Gu­atemala, Hon­duras and El Sal­vador has led to a record num­ber of mi­grant fam­i­lies be­ing ap­pre­hended at the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der in re­cent months. Agents made 132,887 ap­pre­hen­sions in May, in­clud­ing a record 84,542 adults and chil­dren trav­el­ing to­gether. Those ap­pre­hended also in­cluded 11,507 chil­dren trav­el­ing alone.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s $4.5 bil­lion bor­der re­quest has lan­guished on Capi­tol Hill since he sent it over six weeks ago.

CEDAR ATTANASIO/AP

Mi­grants are seen within a fenced-off area at a tem­po­rary out­door en­camp­ment in El Paso, Texas. As mi­grants await pro­cess­ing, tem­per­a­tures there can reach 100 de­grees.

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