I've finally decided this is the story to keep our eyes on this week - as it will be ongoing next week:
Just listen and read.
We were not originally planning to go to the Clint border facility outside of El Paso, Texas, because it’s an adult facility, and the facility historically has had a relatively small occupancy, maximum of 104. However, we received reports last week that children appeared to be moving to this facility. And so what we did was we added it to our list of visits. And when we got there on Monday morning, we were immediately given a roster showing that there were over 350 children at this facility. And then, when we scanned the roster, we were taken aback by the number of very young children at this facility. There were over a hundred young children who were being kept there. And so, we immediately asked the guards to start to bring us the youngest children and also the children who had been there the longest. We also saw that there were about a half a dozen child mothers and their infants. And so we asked the guards to also bring us those children.
When the children walked into the conference room, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. They were sick. They were coughing. They had runny noses. They were filthy dirty. And they immediately started to describe the level of hunger that they were experiencing. They told us that they were being fed nothing but the same meals three times a day, and they weren’t really meals. These are Frankenfood; these are highly processed chemical foods. In the morning, they are given instant oatmeal, a packet of Kool-Aid and a cookie. For lunch, they are given instant soup, a cookie and another packet of Kool-Aid. And then, for dinner, they’re given a frozen burrito in a plastic wrapper, similar to what you would see at a gas station. And some of the children complained that the burritos were often not thoroughly cooked. And then they also, at that point, are given another cookie and a Kool-Aid. Young children are being given this meal. Child mothers are being given this meal. And so, the children, on a routine basis, said that they were hungry.
On top of that, the children started to describe rooms in which there were 25, 50, a hundred children. One boy said that when he first arrived there, there were over 300 children in a room. When we talked to the Border Patrol officers who are running this facility, they reported to us that the facility had recently undergone an expansion, but we couldn’t figure out where that expansion was. So, after that first day of interviewing, we drove around the facility, and we saw a metal warehouse with no walls. And we couldn’t believe that that possibly could be the expansion. But when we talked to the Border Patrol officers the next day and started to talk to the children about where they were being kept, we found out that, in fact, that one warehouse was allegedly what had given them an additional capacity of 500 additional children.
So, then what happened was, is we started to talk about the children, and we asked them, “Who is taking care of you?” And we found out that, in fact, nobody is—virtually no one is taking care of these children directly, that they are locked up in these cells 24 hours a day. There are open toilets in many of these cells. There’s no soap, no way to wash their hands. They’re being fed in these cells the processed instant foods that I described for you earlier. And many of them are being forced to sleep on concrete because of a shortage of beds and mats and sleeping space. Children described sleeping on concrete floors. They described sleeping on cement blocks—not just the older children, but we heard of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school-age children who are having to sleep on the floor.
To make things worse, as we were trying to call in the youngest children, because we were especially concerned about the vulnerabilities of certain elements of this population, we found out that there were a number of children that they could not bring to us because they were so sick. And so we started to count the number of children who apparently were sick at this facility and had been quarantined, and we estimated that at least 15 children that we knew about were in quarantine during the time that we were there. And when we finally got access to these children by telephone, we learned about the conditions in these quarantine facilities, which were just horrendous. These very sick children, with high fevers, are being put on the floor, on mats, largely unsupervised, locked up together for days at a time. They’re being brought the same foods that are being fed to everybody else at the facility, despite the fact that they’re very sick.
They also have someone who is coming there twice a day to check their fever and to give them any medications that are needed, but there’s nobody really caring for these children in the quarantine areas, despite their severe illness. Now, keep in mind that many of the children who have died in these Border Patrol facilities in recent months died from influenza, which is very, very rare in a developed country like the United States. But as you can see, these are not conditions that you would expect to see in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: So, do you believe some children can die there?
WARREN BINFORD: Absolutely. And that’s why, after the second day of interviewing these children, we called up—we had a high-level, very urgent meeting in my hotel room and said, “What are we going to do about this? Because somebody is going to die.” And so, we called up the attorneys who are in charge of this case, described what we were seeing, and then asked them what they wanted us to do about it. And for the first time in over 20 years of doing these visits, they told us to go ahead and go to the media, so that we could get these children out of this facility as quickly as possible.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the lice and the lice combs?
WARREN BINFORD: Yes. Yes, yes. So, let me tell you about this incident, because this was especially concerning. This visit was really originally scheduled for just three days. And what ended up happening was, when I was there on Wednesday, we started to hear from several children that there was an incident that had happened in one of the cells. And what the story was, was that there was a lice outbreak in one of the cells. Six of the children were found to have lice. Those six children were given lice shampoo, and then the other children were given two lice combs and told to pass those around and brush their hair with the lice combs in order to make sure that they, too, didn’t have lice or, if they did, that the lice were being pulled out by the lice combs. Now, sharing lice combs, we all know, is something you never do with a lice infestation. But this is, in fact, what happened.
But then the story gets worse, because one of the little kids lost the comb, and the guards hit the roof. They yelled at the children and berated the children. They scared the children. They made the children cry. And then they took out all of the children’s bedding. They took out the mats. They took out the blankets and told them that as punishment for losing that comb, that they were going to have to sleep on the concrete that night. We could not believe that the guards really were going to do what they had threatened to the children that they would do. And so, we arranged to come back the next day, specifically to interview those children and find out if they had been made to sleep on the floor last night or if it was just an empty threat meant to scare the children. And, in fact, we heard from multiple children that they in fact were forced to sleep on the floor that night in this cold cell, you know, on the cold concrete.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the AP is reporting 1-year-old, 2-year-olds, 3-year-old, dozens more under 12.
WARREN BINFORD: Yeah.Miss Drake