'Children looking after children' at U.S. migrant detention centre: attorney
A lawyer who visited a U.S. migrant holding facility where hundreds of children were being held earlier this month says that what she witnessed left her “horrified.”
Warren Binford spoke last week with dozens of children detained at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrol station in Clint, Texas. Most of the children were moved out of the facility over the weekend, but Binford says they have been left traumatized.
In an interview with CTV News Washington Correspondent Richard Madan, Binford said the children she met were dirty, smelled bad and were in many cases “obviously sick.”
There were not nearly enough beds and some of the children described spending weeks sleeping on concrete blocks with up to 100 other kids in a single room, she said.
The toilets in the facility were out in the open as they would be in jails, which meant the children were forced to urinate and defecate in front of dozens of strangers around them, according to Binford.
‘Children looking after children’
Even more concerning to Binford was the lack of adult supervision.
“They’re basically thrown into the cell, locked up in there and the guards stay outside and then the children have to fend for themselves,” she said.
“It was children looking after children,” she went on. “Children described for us how a guard would bring a child to the room and say, ‘Who wants to take care of this little kid?’ And then the children would describe to us how a seven or eight year old would volunteer to take care of a toddler or a pre-schooler. But they didn’t really know how.”
In one case, an older child was appointed to watch over the other children in his room, according to Binford. “He would tell the other children what to do, and order them around, and in exchange for that he got extra food,” she said.
Guards in the facility told Binford they were upset by the conditions, but didn’t have the training or resources to take better care of them, she said.
“Clearly, at this facility and I suspect at many other facilities as well, things are going horribly, tragically wrong here in America,” she said.
Binford noted that several migrant children have died in the border patrol’s custody over the past year. She said she fears that another child could die.
U.S Customs and Border Protection told The Associated Press that the “short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis.”
Government rules call for children to be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours. Binford said border patrol agents at the facility told her that the OAR wasn’t coming quick enough to pick the children up.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence was asked about the conditions for children on NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday. He called the situation “totally unacceptable” and said that he hopes Congress will allocate more resources to border security.