Opinion: The 'Filthy And Uncomfortable Circumstances' Of Detained Migrant Children

Jun 22, 2019
Originally published on June 22, 2019 2:12 pm

If you knew of a child who was being forced by a parent or guardian to sleep on a cold concrete floor, in overcrowded surroundings, with screaming lights always on overhead that made it hard to sleep, with limited access to a bathroom, no way to brush their teeth, no soap and no towel — would you do something?

Call the police or juvenile authorities to say, "A child is being mistreated. You should do something."

This week, the U.S. government went to court to argue that it's acceptable to keep thousands of migrant children detained in U.S. custody.

Let me repeat that: thousands of children in U.S. custody, exactly in such conditions.

In 2014 — during the Obama administration, it should be noted — several young immigrants caught along the border said they had been given dirty water to drink and kept in crowded, frigid cells.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of Los Angeles ruled that children taken into federal immigration custody must be kept in "safe and sanitary" facilities.

The judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, upheld Judge Gee's ruling two years ago. But this week, Sarah Fabian, senior litigation counsel for the Department of Justice, told the three-judge panel she thought the phrase was vague.

The judges sounded furious.

Judge Marsha Berzon asked Fabian: "You're really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn't a question of 'safe and sanitary' conditions?"

Judge William Fletcher said, "Cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you've got an aluminum foil blanket? I find it inconceivable that the government would say that that is safe and sanitary."

"It may be they don't get super-thread-count Egyptian linen, I get that," he added, and said the soap provided didn't have to be perfumed. But plain soap, he said, "sounds like it's part of 'safe and sanitary.' "

Judge A. Wallace Tashima said, "If you don't have a toothbrush, if you don't have soap, if you don't have a blanket, it's not safe and sanitary. Wouldn't everybody agree to that?"

Many of us would call the police if we knew children were being held in cold, cramped, filthy and uncomfortable circumstances. Thousands of children are being held in those conditions — in U.S. government facilities.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you knew of a child who was being forced by a parent or guardian to sleep on a cold concrete floor in overcrowded surroundings, with screaming lights always on overhead that made it hard to sleep, had limited access to a bathroom, no way to brush their teeth, no soap and no towel, would you do something? Call the police or juvenile authorities to say, a child is being mistreated; you should do something.

This week, the U.S. government went to court to argue that it's acceptable to keep thousands of migrant children detained in U.S. custody. Let me repeat that - thousands of children in U.S. custody, exactly in such conditions.

In 2014 - during the Obama administration, it should be noted - several young immigrants caught along the border said they'd been given dirty water to drink and kept in crowded, frigid cells. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of Los Angeles ruled that children taken into federal immigration custody should be kept in, quote, "safe and sanitary facilities." The judges of the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, upheld Judge Gee's ruling two years ago.

This week, Sarah Fabian, senior litigation counsel for the Department of Justice, told the three-judge panel she thought the phrase was vague. The judges sounded furious. Judge Marsha Berzon asked Sarah Fabian, you're really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn't a question of safe and sanitary conditions?

Judge William Fletcher said, cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you've got an aluminum foil blanket. I find it inconceivable that the government would say that that is safe and sanitary. Maybe they don't get super-thread-count Egyptian linen; I get that, he added, and said the soap provided didn't have to be perfumed. But plain soap, he said, sounds like it's part of safe and sanitary. Judge A. Wallace Tashima said, if you don't have a toothbrush, if you don't have soap, if you don't have a blanket, it's not safe and sanitary. Wouldn't everybody agree to that?

Many of us would call the police if we knew children were being held in cold, cramped, filthy and uncomfortable circumstances. Thousands of children are being held in those conditions in U.S. government facilities. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.