The USA’s Migrant Detention Centres: What’s Really Going on?

The Migrant Detention Centres at the USA’s border with Mexico have been getting a lot of attention lately. Some have drawn parallels between the holding centres and ‘concentration camps’, whilst President Donald Trump calls the management of the centres a “fantastic job”.

There are many conflicting statements being given over how the detention centres are being ran, though photo evidence is quickly clearing things up. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, has been very vocal in her opposition to the facilities, and, after making trips to various detention centres in Texas over the last few days, has produced scathing reports on the conditions there. 

So what exactly has Ocasio-Cortez said?

Upon her visits to the facilities on Monday 1st July, the Representative has claimed that there is no running water in sinks, and that women have been instructed to drink out of toilet bowls. Conditions in the women’s detainment areas are cramped, with 15 said to be sharing a single cell. Many have been separated from their families for weeks at a time, with some being said to have been held for over 50 days. 

At children’s detention centres, the conditions are allegedly similar. Lights are never turned off, meaning that the children are being forced to sleep under bright lights, and beds are next-to-nonexistent, meaning that they must also sleep on the floor. Some children claim to have been separated from their families for more than three weeks. Older children, around the age of twelve, say that they have no choice but to look after the younger children, toddlers, and babies, as there is no-one else to take care of them. They have also said that they must stay in the same clothes for weeks on end, without access to toothpaste, soap, or regular showers. Some babies, as young as two and a half months old, do not have any adult supervision, or clean diapers, and the older children looking after them are not allowed to clean their bottles, ABC News have said.

Conditions in men’s detention centres are equally as deprived. A US watchdog has said that there is “dangerous overcrowding” in the centres. BBC News has released pictures of some of the conditions, where some facilities have “51 female migrants held in a cell made for 40 men, and 71 males held in a cell built for 41 women”.

What are officials saying?

The Department of Health and Human Services have confirmed that over 2300 migrant children have been detained in the aforementioned facilities. 

Six children have died while in immigration custody since September 2018, ranging in age from two to 16 years old.  Lawyers have asked US District Judge Dolly Gee to hold President Donald Trump’s administration in contempt, demanding improved conditions in the facilities immediately. 

Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who interviewed 39 children in various detention centres likened them to “torture facilities”, telling the courts: 

“That is, extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water or adequate food. All 39 detainees had no access to hand-washing during their entire time in custody, including no hand-washing available after bathroom use.”

A lawyer for the Justice Department argued in federal court that denying children toothpaste and soap was not fostering unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and that the children did not require blankets in the centres. 

What will happen now?

Judge Marsha J. Pechman of United States District Court for the Western District of Washington has recently blocked Attorney General William P. Barr’s order that sought to keep migrants detained indefinitely. Pechman rejected the order, stating that it was unconstitutional. She also ruled that migrants must be granted a bond hearing within seven days of a request, or be released if they have not received a hearing within that time. She expects the government to try and appeal this decision. 

The advocacy groups MoveOn, Families Belong Together, United We Dream, and American Friends Service Committee are rallying protestors to take a stand against the detention centres, with many taking to the streets to object to what they deem ‘inhumane’ treatment of the migrants in the facilities.

US Border Patrol Chief of Operations, Brian Hastings, has denied many of the claims regarding the detention centres, saying that charges are “completely untrue.” Hastings has said that there are “ample supplies”, and that “a lot of our stations look like Costco.”

President Donald Trump signed a Democrat bill that provides $4.6 billion in emergency funding for the border, though it is not yet known what this funding will go towards if the bill is passed. He has defended the facilities, however, saying that they are in much better condition than Obama-era migration camps.  

“Remember the big, the big deal where they showed the cells all over and they said, ‘Donald Trump’ and they showed young children in the cells and Donald Trump built these cells? It turned out they were built in 2014 when Obama was president,” he said. “Well, they’re better than, much better than Obama… The conditions are much better than they were under President Obama.”