Border detention facilities for children are a disaster
- Lovisa Stannow
- August 21, 2019
- Houston Chronicle
Last month, a California woman spoke to reporters about a horrific interaction she had with a Border Patrol agent. The agent worked at the Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Texas, where the woman’s 12-year-old son was being held. The Clint facility was already in the news, following lawyers’ accounts of children detained there who were living in cages and not getting enough food.
Using an offer to help her son as a pretext, the agent arranged to have a video chat with the woman. But he wasn’t interested in giving the woman advice, and roughly 20 minutes into the call he began masturbating. After the initial shock, the woman’s thoughts turned to her son. “My God, what is going to happen with my child?” she told reporters. “Did this guy do anything to him?”
Family members and advocates have been asking these same questions about border agents, at Clint and beyond. And the answers given by top border officials provide no comfort. Time and time again, the people in charge of running these facilities have refused to accept responsibility for the mistreatment of migrants, while minimizing acts of brutality of the officers who work there.
The unwillingness of officials to confront the problems within their ranks has been on full display recently. Last week, during his testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Mark Morgan, the Acting Commissioner of CBP, bristled at the notion that there was a toxic staff culture at his agency. The existence of the “10-15” Facebook group, where current and former agents shared and commented on racist and misogynistic memes, did not concern Morgan, because only a few agents were responsible for the most vile content. Nor did he seem worried about the reports of sexual abuse and harassment by his agents; those cases had not been fully adjudicated, and thus could not be called a pattern.
Commissioner Morgan’s words echoed the testimony from a week earlier by Carla Provost, a Border Patrol chief. She chalked up the offensive Facebook content to a “few bad apples” and was adamant that it was not symptomatic of a deeper issue — even though the group consisted of nearly 10,000 officials, including herself.
Both Provost and Morgan were following the company line established by their boss, Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan of the Department of Homeland Security. When asked by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., whether he had seen the depiction on the 10-15 page of Ocasio-Cortez being forced to perform a sex act on President Trump, McAleenan said yes. But he insisted that “we do not have a culture of dehumanization at CBP.” To the contrary, agency personnel were “absolutely committed to the well-being of everyone that they interact with.”
Despite what its leadership insists, the abominable comments on Facebook and recent incidents of abuse represent just the tip of the iceberg. A recent report revealed that scores of children had been sexually assaulted in border patrol custody.
While many elected leaders believe that conditions in border facilities are unacceptable, there is little agreement on what should be done. In June, Congress passed an emergency funding bill to provide $4.6 billion to government agencies that work along the border, including CBP. But more funding is not going to fix the crisis. Detained unaccompanied migrant children need more than access to showers and toothpaste. They need the adults who have total control over their freedom to care about their human rights.
It is clear that CPB cannot house children safely and, absent a massive overhaul in the agency’s culture and the mindset of its leadership, no amount of funding will change that fact.
When the government takes away a person’s freedom, it takes on an absolute responsibility to keep that person safe. CBP leaders have abdicated that responsibility, and young children are suffering as a result. It’s time to release children along the border and end this cruelty, once and for all.
Originally published at https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Border-Patrol-is-failing-to-keep-the-children-it-14365041.php