"I'm hungry here at Clint all the time": Lawyers use kids' testimonies to seek access to Border Patrol facilities

By Graham Kates

/ CBS News

100 migrant children returned to "inhumane" Texas facility

Days after lawyers uncovered conditions in a Border Patrol facility that one doctor said "could be compared to torture," an emergency motion was filed on Wednesday seeking immediate access and inspections of 20 similar sites in Texas. The lawyers claimed Border Patrol officials had told children to take care of strangers' babies, and that the children lacked access to basic hygiene and nutrition.

The motion follows the legal team's revelation on June 21 that 350 children had been warehoused in a severely overcrowded adult Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas.

"Children are held for weeks in deplorable conditions, without access to soap, clean water, showers, clean clothing, toilets, toothbrushes, adequate nutrition or adequate sleep," the attorneys wrote in the filing. "The children, including infants and expectant mothers, are dirty, cold, hungry and sleep-deprived. Because the facilities deny basic hygiene to the children, the flu is spreading among detained class members, who also are not receiving essential medical assessments or prompt medical treatment."

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The lawyers are seeking immediate inspections of all U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities in Texas' Rio Grande and El Paso sectors, access to the facilities by independent medical professionals, an "intensive case management team" to expedite processing of the children and an order finding the government in contempt of court for violations of a decades-old legal agreement governing the care of unaccompanied migrant children.

Peter Schey, the team's lead attorney, said in a statement to CBS News that interviews with children and parents reveal a "health crisis" in the Border Patrol stations.

"The declarations of class members we have gathered over the past two weeks also disclose that they are detained in what they call 'hieleras,' or 'iceboxes,' or in cages, under appalling, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions," Schey said.

The filing includes a declaration from a pediatrician who the lawyers say was so concerned about the infants he examined that five were ultimately brought to a local hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

"The conditions within which [children] are held could be compared to torture facilities. That is, extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food," wrote the doctor, Dolly Lucio Sevier.

The filing also includes testimonials from children and parents who were interviewed at the Clint facility.

"I'm hungry here at Clint all the time," a 12-year-old boy said, according to the lawyers. "I'm so hungry that I have woken up in the middle of the night with hunger….I'm too scared to ask the officials here for any more food."

Many of the children complained of hunger, according to Elora Mukherjee, one of the lawyers who toured the facility.

"Nearly every child I spoke with was hungry. The food is given out in trays and every child gets the same ration regardless of if they're one year old or seventeen years old, or if they're a breast feeding mother who has higher caloric needs," said Mukherjee, a Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, during a Monday interview with CBS News.

The testimonials include statements from young mothers who said they struggled to take care of their babies.

"Three days ago my baby soiled his clothes. I had no place to wash the clothes so I could not put them back on my baby because when he went to the bathroom his poop came out of his diaper and all over his clothing," read one testimonial. "Since then, my baby of only three months has only been wearing a small little jacket made of t-shirt material," a 17-year-old said, according to the lawyers. "I have nothing else for my son to wear…. I have been told they do not have any clothes here at this place. I just want my baby to be warm enough. I am having to make sure I carry my baby super close to me to keep his little body warm."

Others tell stories of separation from parents, and children being tasked with caring for the babies of strangers.

"I started taking care of (a 5-year-old girl) in the Ice Box after they separated her from her father. I did not know either of them before that," said a 15-year-old girl, according to the lawyers. "She was very upset. The workers did nothing to try to comfort her. I tried to comfort her and she has been with me ever since. (The baby) sleeps on a mat with me on the concrete floor. We spend all day every day in that room. There are no activities, only crying."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not return a request for comment.

First published on June 27, 2019 / 12:05 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Graham Kates

Graham Kates is an investigative reporter covering criminal justice, privacy issues and information security for CBSNews.com.

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