Immigrant advocates are demanding the immediate release of at least nine infants under the age of 1, and their moms, from ICE custody in a South Texas detention facility lacking adequate medical care for this "vulnerable population."
In a letter sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights officer and inspector general Thursday, three immigration groups urged that the babies and their mothers should be released since ICE has “failed to demonstrate its ability to provide regular preventive care which could detect potentially serious complications that arise while in detention.” The South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, Texas, (capacity: 2,400 detainees) is about an hour’s drive from a center that’s equipped to provide specialized medical services, the advocates said.
They started the letter saying they’ve seen an “alarming increase” in the number of infants being held in ICE custody.
The Texas facility known as Dilley, operated by the private prison company CoreCivic, is the largest of three family detention centers for undocumented migrants in the U.S. It's about an hour’s drive from San Antonio, the “nearest major metropolitan center with facilities equipped to provide specialized medical services,” according to the advocates' letter. Nine babies being kept there are younger than a year old, according to the letter from the American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. Some mothers have reported to their lawyers that babies in Dilley have seen their formulas change suddenly, have lost weight or have had trouble sleeping since arriving at the facility.
In at least one instance, an infant was held for more than 20 days, potentially in violation of the Flores Settlement, which keeps the government from holding children for longer than 20 days.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care,” an ICE spokeswoman said in a statement to VICE News. “ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care.”
A panel of experts told the Department of Homeland Security in 2016 that the practice of family detention should be stopped entirely.
But, due to conflict in the so-called Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — more people are trying to seek their legal right to asylum in the U.S. on credible claims that they’ll face violence or death if they return home. And that’s led to more families in detention. Since October, Border Patrol arrests of parents with children have increased 290 percent to nearly 100,000, compared to 25,624 in the same period last year, according to government data.
In March 2018, Mariee Juarez — the 18-month-old daughter of Yazmin Juarez, an asylum-seeker from Guatemala — developed a cough and fever of over 104 degrees a week after she came to Dilley. She died weeks later, when she was outside of ICE confinement, and doctors told VICE News in August that conditions at places like Dilley can make it easier to get sick and harder to recover.
Cover: In this Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 photo provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, mothers and their children stand in line at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP, File)