8-Year-Old Migrants Being Forced to Care for Toddlers in Detention Camps

Honduran migrant child
A Honduran migrant child heading in a caravan to the US, walks near tents at the International Mesoamerican Fair's venue in Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, on October 22, 2018. PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

A team of lawyers conducted 60 interviews with migrant children being held in an El Paso, Texas, detention camp and found conditions to be dismal, with minors being tasked with caring for other children, and lack of proper sanitation and food.

Fifteen of those in the holding center had the flu and 10 more were quarantined with illness, according to the lawyers, who first gave the data to the Associated Press. Three infants were being detained alongside their teenage mothers, and many of the detained children were under the age of 12.

"A Border Patrol agent came in our room with a 2-year-old boy and asked us, 'Who wants to take care of this little boy?' Another girl said she would take care of him, but she lost interest after a few hours and so I started taking care of him yesterday," one teenaged girl told the lawyers in an interview. The lawyers saw the boy and reported that he was not wearing a diaper, had wet his pants and his shirt was covered in mucus.

Law professor Warren Binford, who aided in the interviews, said she witnessed an 8-year-old girl caring for a 4-year-old child who was very dirty; the girl was unable to get the boy to take a shower. Binford also described the children she interviewed as sleep-deprived, often falling asleep while speaking with her.

Children told the lawyers that they were often fed un-defrosted frozen food or plain rice, and were not given changes of clothing or allowed to shower on a regular basis.

"In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention, I have never heard of this level of inhumanity," said Holly Cooper, co-director of the University of California, Davis' Immigration Law Clinic, to the AP. "Seeing our country at this crucible moment where we have forsaken children and failed to see them as human is hopefully a wake up for this country to move toward change."

Some of the children held in the facility had arrived at the U.S. southern border without their guardians and others had been separated from their families by the government.

The lawyers were inspecting the facility as part of what is known as the Flores agreement, which resulted from a landmark 1985 case that established that facilities where minor migrants are held must be kept "safe and sanitary." President Donald Trump said in April that the Flores decision "is a disaster," but appeared to believe that it referred to a judge named Flores, rather than Jenny Lisette Flores, an unaccompanied teenage migrant from El Salvador.

A representative of the Trump administration, the Justice Department's Sarah Fabian, argued Tuesday that safe and sanitary conditions don't necessarily have to include toothbrushes, soap or towels for children.

At least five migrant children have died in U.S. custody since late in 2018.

Update, 6/24; 11:00: This story originally included a photograph of migrant children that appeared to trigger a Facebook algorithm that caused readers to be blocked on Facebook. The image complied with Newsweek's editorial standards, but because of the problem for readers, we have replaced it with a different image. We have asked Facebook to explain the issue and will update with any answer.