WASHINGTON, July 9, 2019 — Like many around the world and in the United States, Refugees International is shocked and gravely concerned by numerous recent revelations, frequently from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) itself, of inhumane detention conditions for asylum seekers, including children. A recent report by the DHS’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) documented “dangerous” overcrowding in U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) processing facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. Asylum seekers, including young children, are packed into these facilities for weeks without places to lie down, access to showers, medicine, clothes, or decent food.
“Those fleeing for their lives and claiming asylum should not be detained under any circumstances,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International. “Alternatives to detention, like community supervision and monitoring, have proven humane, effective, and much less expensive. And detention under the horrific current conditions in DHS facilities is outrageous and condemnable.”
On June 18, before incredulous federal judges, a government attorney argued that CBP was not required to provide detained children with toothbrushes, soap, and blankets. In mid-June, lawyers, professors, and doctors interviewed unaccompanied children—many separated from adult family members at the border—who had been held for several weeks in CBP processing facilities at Ursela and Clint, Texas, and were horrified by what they found. The conditions violate the Flores settlement as well as CBP’s own detention standards. At Clint, young children were unattended, filthy, hungry, sick, and forced to sleep on cold floors without bedding. At Ursela, babies were sharing cribs and drinking from dirty bottles, and toddlers were severely traumatized. An uncontained flu outbreak sent several infants to the hospital. On June 24, in response to criticisms, CBP moved children from Clint to another CBP facility, where conditions are also unsuitable.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, to which CBP releases unaccompanied children, uses an unlicensed, privately-run influx shelter at Homestead, Fla., which human rights advocates have called grossly inappropriate for children. And, in early June, the OIG found that conditions in ICE facilities, to which the Border Patrol releases adults, were substandard and inhumane; the OIG documented overuse of segregation, strip searches, and handcuffs, the prevalence of spoiled food, moldy bathrooms, and inadequate hygiene and recreation.
“Asylum seekers are not criminals and under American law, immigration detention is not supposed to be a punishment,” said Schwartz. “As a federal judge in Seattle reaffirmed on July 2, using detention as a deterrent to seeking asylum is an unconstitutional violation of due process. The draconian detention policies of this administration are designed to deter and to punish, which is cruel and causes needless suffering, and they must stop now.
“Refugees International strongly condemns this treatment, remains steadfast in its support for asylum seekers, and calls on this administration to end its illegal and inhumane policies,” he said.