USA: Children detained at the border could be exposed to COVID

Border Patrol agents have detained about 65 immigrant minors at a South Texas station in conditions that do not control the spread of the coronavirus, with limited social distancing and lack of access to soap and hand sanitizer, immigration attorneys denounced Friday. .

An attorney who visited the station in Weslaco, Texas, spoke with teenagers who had been detained there for at least three days, said Carlos Holguin, co-founder of the activist organization Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

One of the teens, 15, said in an affidavit that he is allowed to take a daily 5-minute shower for which he has to wait in line with no room for social distancing, Holguin said. The young man said that he was given only one mask and that is the one he uses every day.

A 13-year-old boy indicated in another affidavit that he is wearing the cloth mask that he had when he entered the United States, Holguin added. Both minors indicated that they do not have hand sanitizer or soap to wash them.

“If they do not arrive with COVID, the conditions in these facilities are such that, when they leave, they have most likely been exposed to COVID,” said the lawyer.

The youngest immigrant at the station is a 3-year-old girl accompanied by her mother, Holguin said. There are also children of 8 and 9 years.

The report is the latest accusation that immigrant children are being abused by the Trump administration, which separated thousands of families in 2017 and 2018, detaining many of them in a converted warehouse in South Texas. Another Border Patrol station in Clint, in the same entity, was used last year to detain more than 250 children and adolescents without food, water or sanitation, and reports emerged of children having to take care of each other.

Border Patrol stations are not designed to detain minors, unlike facilities operated by the Department of Health and Human Services. The station in Weslaco is where Carlos Hernández Vásquez, 16, died of influenza after being left for hours in a cell without receiving care. Hernández is one of six children since 2018 who have died shortly after being apprehended by border agents.

Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that it had designated Weslaco as the regional town to detain minors who cross the border without their parents.

“Specific services and amenities are required for those vulnerable populations, and the specifically designated facility contains the supplies and staff to meet that need,” the agency said. “The US Border Patrol adheres to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines on social distancing and personal hygiene.”

The agency did not respond to questions about whether the children had new soap, hand sanitizer or masks.

During the pandemic, the Trump administration has expelled thousands of migrant children from the country without giving them the opportunity to seek protection under asylum or other laws, citing risks to public health. He claimed that the expulsions were necessary to control the spread of COVID-19. The Associated Press has reported that Vice President Mike Pence ordered the CDC to use its emergency power after some at the agency resisted.

This year, the government was detaining migrant children and families in hotels for days and weeks before expelling them from the country. In September, a federal judge banned the use of hotels as long-term detention sites.

Following the order, border authorities began referring more children to Health Department facilities while they were still attempting expulsions. This week, another federal judge barred the government from expelling minors unaccompanied by their parents, although the ruling does not apply to minors who cross the border from Mexico with their parents.

Holguin is part of a team of attorneys that monitors the treatment of immigrant children detained under a court arrangement known as the Flores settlement. He said CBP had refused to tell his team how long the minors had been detained in Weslaco and if any had been in custody for more than three days, the limit set by the agreement.

“Our concern is that since they are not allowed to use hotels as they previously did, then they are going to detain children at Border Patrol stations like the one in Weslaco,” he said.