chaotic scene of sickness and filth is unfolding in an overcrowded border station in Clint, Tex., where hundreds of young people who have recently crossed the border are being held, according to lawyers who visited the facility this week. Some of the children have been there for nearly a month.
Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk.
Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.
“There is a stench,” said Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, one of the lawyers who visited the facility. “The overwhelming majority of children have not bathed since they crossed the border.”
Conditions at Customs and Border Protection facilities along the border have been an issue of increasing concern as officials warn that the recent large influx of migrant families has driven many of the facilities well past their capacities. The border station in Clint is only one of those with problems.
In May, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security warned of “dangerous overcrowding” among adult migrants housed at the border processing center in El Paso, with up to 900 migrants being held at a facility designed for 125. In some cases, cells designed for 35 people were holding 155 people.
“Border Patrol agents told us some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks,” the inspector general’s office said in its report, which noted that some detainees were observed standing on toilets in the cells “to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets.”
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Friday announced the deployment of 1,000 new National Guard troops to the border to help respond to the continuing new arrivals, which the governor said have amounted to more than 45,000 people from 52 countries over the past three weeks.
“The children are locked in their cells and cages nearly all day long,” Ms. Mukherjee said. “A few of the kids said they had some opportunities to go outside and play, but they said they can’t bring themselves to play because they are trying to stay alive in there.”
Among the guidelines set under the legal settlement are that facilities for children must be “safe and sanitary.”
The Justice Department’s lawyer, Sarah Fabian, argued that the settlement agreement did not specify the need to supply hygienic items and that, therefore, the government did not need to do so.
“Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?” Judge William Fletcher asked Ms. Fabian. “I find that inconceivable that the government would say that is safe and sanitary.”