WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon's U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley released a statement on Thursday indicating that he is calling for a formal investigation of conditions for children in facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The statement follows reports from Border Station Clint in El Paso, Texas that found children being held in "squalid and dangerous conditions," Merkley's office said. The Senator has appealed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General to investigate whether any of the agency's officials or staff broke the law allowing this situation to exist.
If child welfare went into a foster home and found children in dirty clothes, with unchanged diapers, no soap and toothpaste, those children would be whisked away and the adults would face prosecution. This is no different. I am demanding a formal investigation from DHS IG. pic.twitter.com/WvscVNOuUe— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) June 27, 2019
“If child welfare went into a foster home and found children in dirty clothes, with unchanged diapers, denied soap and toothpaste, those children would be whisked away and the adults would face possible prosecution,” said Merkley. “The adults responsible for the rampant mistreatment of children in their custody at Clint and elsewhere need to similarly be held accountable.”
According to Merkley's office, the reports from Clint found a laundry list of egregious conditions: No staff care for children under the age of 5; inadequate child care, particularly with respect to health, sanitation and nutrition; no apparent effort to unify children with their families; not enough space for the children; unreasonable delay in moving kids to a better setting; arbitrary punishments; and moving hundreds of children away in the days after media reports exposed those conditions followed by moving 100 kids back days after that.
“The reasons for this request are obvious,” Merkley said. “Shocking conditions and staff practices exist at Custom and Border Patrol Facilities now being used to detain migrant children — in particular at Border Station Clint in El Paso, Texas.”
Merkley requested that the Inspector General's Office provide a response by July 26.
The statement included a list of quotes that accompanied a temporary retraining order request filed by advocates following the media reports from Clint:
- “There are little kids here who have no one to take care of them, not even a big brother or sister. Some kids are only two or three years old and they have no one to take care of them.” – Boy, age 11
- “I’m hungry here at Clint all the time. I’m so hungry that I have woken up in the middle of the night with hunger. Sometimes I wake up from hunger at 4 a.m., sometimes at other hours. I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me.” – Boy, age 12
- “The day we arrived, my baby became sick. She could not open her eyes and had a fever which got much worse during the day. I asked the guard for help and he told me to ‘just deal with it.’ I asked for help again, and was ignored.” – Girl, age unknown
- “I am in a room with dozens of other boys. Some have been as young as 3 or 4 years old. Some cry. Right now, there is a 12 year old who cries a lot. Others try to comfort him. One of the officers makes fun of those who cry.” — Boy, age 17
- “I was apprehended with my father. The immigration agents separated me from my father right away. I was very frightened and scared. I cried. I have not seen my father again… I have had a cold and cough for several days. I have not seen a doctor and I have not been given any medicine.” – Boy, age 5
- “They took us away from our grandmother and now we are all alone. They have not given us to our mother. We have been here for a long time. I have to take care of my little sister. She is very sad because she misses our mother and grandmother very much… We sleep on a cement bench. There are two mats in the room, but the big kids sleep on the mats so we have to sleep on the cement bench.” — Boy, age 8
DHS has not yet publicly addressed the reports about conditions at Clint or any other Border Stations, but Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan has repeatedly encouraged efforts in Congress to pass a funding bill for the border in recent days.
“Today the Senate demonstrated their bipartisan commitment to addressing the humanitarian crisis at our border and supporting the men and women of DHS," Sec. McAleenan said. "This emergency funding addresses the immediate and dire need to provide safe care for the children and families coming across our border at unprecedented levels. I urge lawmakers to work together quickly and collaboratively to swiftly pass a bill.”