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U.N. Human Rights Chief "Appalled" by Conditions of Child Detention at U.S. Border

“As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked."

by David Gilbert
Jul 9 2019, 12:13pm

The U.N.’s human rights chief is “deeply shocked” by the U.S.’s treatment of migrant children in detention centers at the Mexican border, calling the conditions “alarming” and urging the Trump administration to end the practice of separating children from their families.

“As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate health care or food, and with poor sanitation conditions,” Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement Monday.

The former Chilean president said migrant children should never be held in detention centers or separated from their families — both practices the Trump administration has enforced.

“Detaining a child even for short periods under good conditions can have a serious impact on their health and development — consider the damage being done every day by allowing this alarming situation to continue,” Bachelet said.

"Any deprivation of liberty of adult migrants and refugees should be a measure of last resort," the commissioner added, appealing to the White House to come up with "non-custodial alternatives.”

Bachelet, who has typically been less abrasive when dealing with governments than her predecessor, was inspired to speak out about the situation at the border after reading a report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, which warned of dangerous conditions in U.S. immigration detention facilities.

That report, published last week, said many children had no access to showers and were being detained long past the legal limit of 72 hours. Five children have died in Border Patrol custody since December.

While Bachelet has only spoken out now, various other U.N. officials have been voicing concerns about the Trump administration’s policies towards migrant children for more than a year.

Over the course of the last year, several U.N. human rights bodies concluded that the Trump administration’s cruel and inhumane separation of migrant children from their families likely constituted a breach of international law, a fact Bachelet noted in her statement.

Sunday, President Trump attempted to portray the situation in a positive light, saying that migrants and asylum seekers in U.S. custody have fled “unbelievable poverty” and that “relatively speaking, they’re in much better shape right now."

Earlier this month, more than a dozen Democrats visited two Border Patrol facilities and described nightmarish conditions inside both, despite Custom and Border Protection officers efforts to stop the representatives speaking to the detainees, or taking photographs of the conditions1.

“One cell had 13 women from Cuba that had been moved into the facility that morning. They were on sleeping bags — no pillows, no air mattresses,” Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass) said of the Border Patrol station in El Paso.

Last weekend, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan denied accusations that children were starving, saying the situation at the border was “extremely difficult.”

“We have no evidence that children went hungry. Police station cells are not a good place for children, as I've said dozens of times,” McAleenan told ABC’s “This Week.”

Cover image: Migrants at the Fort Brown Border Patrol station. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security)

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