Legal Filings Draw Attention To Conditions Where Migrants Are Held
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There have been complaints for years about how migrants are being treated at Customs and Border Protection facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the current immigration crisis there has put more scrutiny on these detention centers. Volunteers at the border say they've seen evidence that health care at these facilities is inadequate and that conditions are poor. Houston Public Media's Allison Lee reports.
UNIDENTIFIED HEALTH WORKER: (Speaking Spanish).
UNIDENTIFIED HEALTH WORKER: There we go. I'm going to give it back.
ALLISON LEE, BYLINE: That's a volunteer health worker who's tending to a toddler in a Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen, Texas, where many immigrants go upon release from detention. The child's mother describes the conditions where they were held at Ursula, CBP's central processing center for immigrants.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).
LEE: The woman is talking about not being able to shower for six days. Other newly released immigrants claimed they didn't get enough to eat and didn't get basic medical care.
NORMA BOWE: I saw this with my own two eyes, and I'm a nurse, and I've been a nurse for decades.
LEE: Norma Bowe is a professor at Kean University in New Jersey with a Ph.D. in community health. What she saw in McAllen, she says, haunts her.
BOWE: And they're coming out of detention - out of our United States detention centers - with dehydration, high fevers, coughs, sore throats.
LEE: The migrants may have been traveling for weeks, even months, and may have already been in bad shape when they arrived at the centers. But, according to Bowe...
BOWE: So if they were getting any treatment at all in there, they would not have had these high fevers. You know, we were hydrating and we were giving infant Advil and infant Tylenol and, you know, fevers were coming down pretty quickly.
LEE: Immigrants also relayed stories of scant food.
NAIMEH SALEM: Not a single person that I interviewed at the respite center said that they were eating a proper meal.
LEE: That's Houston immigration lawyer Naimeh Salem. She interviewed detainees while volunteering to help them understand their upcoming court cases.
SALEM: They all said that they were really hungry. Only a bag of chips, water. And some of them said an apple a day. That's all they were getting.
LEE: CBP was asked to respond to these claims. A spokesperson pointed to a recent inspection of this facility and dozens of others. The report found they were in compliance with court-ordered standards for housing, nutrition and health care. But in a filing last week in the U.S. District Court of California, advocates for immigrants disagreed.
KATHERINE MANNING: We feel that the government is still in violation of the agreement.
LEE: Katherine Manning is a senior attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. That agreement is the Flores Settlement, which set basic standards for the detention of immigrant children.
MANNING: We're hearing really horrible stories from our clients continuing to this day about, you know, being given food that's frozen, being given food that appears to be rotten, that, in some cases, they're not given sufficient mattresses so they're sleeping on the cement floor with their children, still.
LEE: Manning says they want a special monitor to oversee the facilities rather than an internal CBP inspection. But, she claims, conditions have been consistently bad since at least 2014 and says the zero tolerance policy has created even more problems. For NPR News, I'm Allison Lee in Houston.
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