Immigration advocates silent as detained migrant children allegedly cut wrists, suffer panic attacks
Kaylee Greenlee, DCNF
- Several immigration advocacy groups did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment regarding conditions at the Fort Bliss emergency intake facility housing migrant minors.
- Two organizations declined to comment on the allegations including migrant children detained at the facility reporting feeling depressed, being placed on suicide watch and harming themselves with plastic ID cards, according to court documents.
- The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service President and CEO told the DCNF the allegations “are deeply troubling conditions that no child should be subjected to.”
Immigration advocacy groups are largely silent on allegations of harsh conditions at a migrant holding facility leading kids to harm themselves and suffer from panic attacks under the Biden administration.
The National Immigration Forum and the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) declined to comment on the conditions at the emergency intake site constructed at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas. Several other groups, including the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Migrant children said they slept in a big tent on stacked cots and had a hard time seeking counseling for depression while at the facility, though several of them were placed on suicide watch and monitored around the clock for 10 days, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported. The children were also given “chicken that was bloody and raw” and other spoiled foods, a 13-year-old Honduran girl detained at Fort Bliss for around two months said in a testimonial.
“If someone tries to commit suicide and kill themselves, then they have to be followed everywhere by a yellow shirt for ten days,” the girl said. “Some girls were using the plastic identification cards to cut themselves, and the staff was worried about the security risk from the lanyard, so I was given an identification bracelet instead.”
Good. Protecting the health, safety, and dignity of unaccompanied children must be a top priority for the administration. https://t.co/1LQZQ4qC9D
— ACLU (@ACLU) June 25, 2021
The Fort Bliss facility was criticized after allegations surfaced of raw and expired food served to kids and instances of self-harm among children housed at the facility were presented in a California court on June 21, CBS News reported Wednesday. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reportedly expanded access to mental health and case management services at the facility and switched to single cots rather than bunk-style beds, according to CBS News.
“These heartbreaking conditions are emblematic of the many problems with the warehousing of vulnerable children by contractors with little to no child welfare experience,” President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Krish O’Mara Vinarajah told the DCNF Thursday. “Overly controlled schedules, limited educational and recreational time, inadequate nutrition, and insufficient access to case managers are deeply troubling conditions that no child should be subjected to.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the Biden administration for not ensuring the migrant children’s basic needs were met and for slow processing times, the organization said in a statement on June 24. The organization reported children housed in football-field-sized tents and a lack of access to information regarding their immigration cases during a tour in April 2021.
“Just this week, staff at Fort Bliss levied new disturbing allegations of sexual assault, lack of medical care, and unhygienic conditions at the facility,” the ACLU said in a statement. “As simply put by Rep. [Veronica] Escobar, the conditions at Fort Bliss are “absolutely unacceptable.’”
LULAC previously criticized the Trump administration for holding migrant children in federal detention for longer than the 20-day maximum set by the Fores Agreement, according to an August 2019 press release. The organization’s National CEO Sindy Benavides then described the detention centers under former President Donald Trump as “squalid” and an “exploitation of children to increase the profits of private detention centers.”
HHS announced plans to close six emergency intake facilities, not including Fort Bliss, CBS News reported. The makeshift structures at Fort Bliss can house up to 10,000 unaccompanied migrant minors, though only around 800 children are currently in custody at the facility.
Unaccompanied migrant minors stay at Fort Bliss for between four and 64 days before they’re either matched with sponsors and released from federal custody or transferred to another facility, according to Jenny L Flores v. Edwin Meese. Nearly 300 children were detained at Fort Bliss for between 50 and 59 days as of June 2.