The Associated Press had a new report about the inhumane conditions under which our government locks up migrant children. Things are shocking and foul in the El Paso detention center in the story, where school-age girls had been taking care of a two-year-old:
Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station…
Data obtained by The Associated Press showed that on Wednesday there were three infants in the station, all with their teen mothers, along with a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds and a 3-year-old. There are dozens more under 12. Fifteen have the flu, and 10 more are quarantined.
Three girls told attorneys they were trying to take care of the 2-year-old boy, who had wet his pants and had no diaper and was wearing a mucus-smeared shirt when the legal team encountered him.
The most shocking squalor, though, wasn’t in the reporting about physical degradation but in the coverage of moral degradation:
In an interview this week with the AP, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders acknowledged that children need better medical care and a place to recover from their illnesses. He urged Congress to pass a $4.6 billion emergency funding package includes nearly $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children.
He said that the Border Patrol is holding 15,000 people, and the agency considers 4,000 to be at capacity.
“The death of a child is always a terrible thing, but here is a situation where, because there is not enough funding … they can’t move the people out of our custody,” Sanders said.
The purpose of the quote, from the commissioner’s point of view, was to establish that the Border Patrol has no choice about this. There are too many migrants for the existing system, at existing funding levels, to detain the children in safe, uncrowded conditions.
What Sanders was describing, however, was a choice. If the law requires the Border Patrol to detain migrants in safe and clean conditions, and if it is impossible to provide safe and clean conditions with current funding and current facilities, then the Border Patrol can let the migrants go.
The law that says the migrants must be detained is no more binding than the law that says people must be kept in humane conditions. The question is which part of the law the Border Patrol will ignore: the part of the law that is killing children, or the part of the law that would allow the children to live.
Everyone has a choice. Twelve jurors in Arizona this month had a choice about whether or not to punish Scott Warren, a volunteer with the group No More Deaths, for giving migrants food and water and shelter—they could choose to support the law against harboring migrants, or they could choose to reject a policy intentionally designed to leave people to die in the desert. Eight of them chose to defend human lives.
Which borders and boundaries are we defending? This week, in court, Sarah Fabian, a lawyer for the United States government, declared that the government may lock up migrant children without giving them any way to clean themselves or to sleep at night:
The Trump administration argued in front of a Ninth Circuit panel Tuesday that the government is not required to give soap or toothbrushes to children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border and can have them sleep on concrete floors in frigid, overcrowded cells, despite a settlement agreement that requires detainees be kept in “safe and sanitary” facilities.
Sarah Fabian did not have to go to court and argue that children must spend their nights on cold concrete floors. John Sanders did not have to say “but” after he said “The death of a child is always a terrible thing.” Always is always. The lawyer and the commissioner decided to do their part to keep children freezing in filth. They went to work to make sure the system that kills children is sustained.
Even the Border Patrol knows what humanity requires. How did that toddler, smeared with snot and urine, get dumped into the cell with young girls, as the lawyers told the AP?
“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 of the girls said in an interview with attorneys.
The agent trusted that the girls would take care of the younger child, even though he was no relation of theirs, even though they themselves were children in captivity. What sort of monsters would they have been if they’d refused, or ignored him?