On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced plans to indefinitely detain immigrant families arrested at the border.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly condemned the plan, saying the administration is “seeking to codify child abuse, plain and simple.”
“[The administration’s] appalling, inhumane family incarceration plan would rip away basic protections for children’s human rights, reversing decades-long and court-imposed rules and violating every standard of morality and civilized behavior.” Speaker Pelosi stated.
“The indefinite and prolonged detention of children would compound the cruelty and accelerate the heart-breaking humanitarian situation at the border, worsening conditions for children already forced to sleep on concrete floors, eat inedible food and be denied basic sanitation and standards of care,” she added.
Pelosi cited a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that was published earlier this year, which described the long-term harm inflicted on children in detention.
“AAP strongly opposes family detention as a solution for separation. The AAP’s 2017 policy statement recommends that no child should be placed in detention, and that even short periods of detention can cause psychological trauma and long-term mental health risks,” the group wrote. “In addition, reports have raised troubling questions about the quality of care and treatment families are receiving in the federal government’s custody.”
The conditions immigrant children are facing have been roundly criticized not only by medical professionals like the AAP, but by several members of Congress who visited immigrant detention camps along the Southwest border. According to Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-California), who spoke with some of the immigrant families being held at a camp in Texas, detainees were denied access to running water, with one woman reportedly telling the Congresswoman that a guard instructed her to drink from the toilet bowl if she was thirsty.
In a case the administration recently lost, attorneys for the Trump administration argued that it shouldn’t have to provide basic hygienic items like soap and toothbrushes to children being held in immigrant detention facilities. Government attorneys argued that the Flores Settlement of 1997 — which dictated that immigrant children should be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions — didn’t specifically stipulate soap and toothbrushes be provided to detainees.
“Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?” a judge hearing the case asked a lawyer representing the Department of Justice.
The administration’s new rule allowing for indefinite detention of immigrant families is likely to be challenged in U.S. District Court, and could be overturned due to established precedent set by Flores.
“This is yet another cruel attack on children, who the Trump administration has targeted again and again with its anti-immigrant policies,” ACLU policy counsel Madhuri Grewal stated. “The government should not be jailing kids, and certainly shouldn’t be seeking to put more kids in jail for longer. Congress must not fund this.”
(Featured image: U.S. Department of Labor/Wikimedia Commons)
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.