WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s immigration policy has crossed the line from gratuitous cruelty to flat-out sadism. Perhaps he enjoys seeing innocent children warehoused in filth and squalor. Perhaps he thinks that’s what America is all about. Is he right, Trump supporters? Is he right, Republicans in Congress? Is this what you want?
A team of lawyers, tasked with monitoring the administration’s compliance with a consent decree on the treatment of migrant children, managed to gain access to a Customs and Border Protection detention center in Clint, Texas, last week. The lawyers were not allowed to tour the facility but were able to interview more than 50 of the estimated 350 children being held there.
Let me quote at length how Willamette University law professor W. Warren Binford described those interviews to a reporter for The New Yorker:
“They [the children] were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts. ... There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.
“So, in any event, the children told us that nobody’s taking care of them, so that basically the older children are trying to take care of the younger children. The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take [care] of this little girl?’ and they’ll bring in a 2-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 4-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.
“Many of the children reported sleeping on the concrete floor. They are being given Army blankets, those wool-type blankets that are really harsh. Most of the children said they’re being given two blankets, one to put beneath them on the floor. Some of the children are describing just being given one blanket and having to decide whether to put it under them or over them because there is air-conditioning at this facility. And so they’re having to make a choice about, Do I try to protect myself from the cement, or do I try to keep warm?”
Binford told reporters that the older children described outbreaks of influenza and head lice at the overcrowded facility, which she said was designed to hold no more than 104 detainees. She told The Washington Post that she “witnessed a 14-year-old caring for a 2-year-old without a diaper, shrugging as the baby urinated as they sat at a table because she did not know what to do.”
The legal experts monitoring the treatment of migrant children rarely go public with their findings, but Binford was shaken by what she saw and heard. She said the overwhelmed CBP guards at the Clint facility were sympathetic to her efforts and knew the children should not be warehoused in such conditions. Thankfully, according to news reports Monday night, hundreds of the children were removed from the facility.
According to the consent decree Binford is helping to monitor, they should not be warehoused at all. Most should have quickly been released to a parent, relative or guardian who is already in the United States.
Shamefully, there is more: Dolly Lucio Sevier, a physician who was able to assess 39 children at a different detention facility in McAllen, Texas, described conditions there as including “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water or adequate food,” according to a document obtained by ABC News.
“The conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities,” Lucio Sevier wrote.
Trump and Vice President Pence responded with lies (blaming the Obama administration), deflection (blaming Democrats in Congress) and lots of oleaginous faux concern. But this is a humanitarian crisis of Trump’s making. A president who panders to his base by seizing billions of dollars from other programs to build a “big, beautiful wall” also panders to his base by cruelly treating brown-skinned migrant children like subhumans.
Do not look away. This is the reality of Trump’s America. Deal with it.