The care of immigrant children in U.S. detention


Originally published by The Washington Post’

The Oct. 2 editorial “The ongoing misery of separated children” criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for providing care to unaccompanied alien children after they illegally crossed our border. Our office identified contact information for parents of such children who were outside the United States. Our grantees who care for the children had already established regular contact with the families and have helped advocacy organizations make connections when they were unable to do so independently.

Second, the children housed at our temporary shelter in Tornillo, Tex., have not been “warehoused . . . without schools or other age-appropriate support.” In contrast, each minor receives an individual bed; care and supervision; case management; counseling; access to legal services; medical care; three meals a day, snacks (including catered events and food trucks); recreation, including soccer, basketball, movies, arts and crafts, and board games; religious services; and private showers. Minors receive educational services from retired teachers and a school administrator using textbooks and workbooks in a study-hall format. This is far from the “cavalier cruelty” described in the editorial.

Every minor in our care is treated with dignity and respect. The services provided are delivered in a compassionate and organized manner while we work expeditiously to find a suitable sponsor. A solution is for Congress to fix our broken immigration system. Meanwhile, our office is not only following current law but also following our mission to care for children.

Lynn A. Johnson, Washington

The writer is assistant secretary
for children and families for the
Department of Health and Human Services.

Regarding the Oct. 3 news article “Violations found at immigration jail”:

These horrific examples describe an ongoing pattern of neglect experienced by detainees in privately run detention centers where the withholding of health care has been used as a weapon. Detained immigrants throughout the country are routinely denied medical services, sometimes resulting in death. A 2017 report by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest points to more than a decade of internal federal reviews and human rights investigations that found similarly egregious medical neglect in detention facilities.

Nearly 440,000 immigrants are detained each year, and more than 12,000 are children. Denying these men, women and children access to basic medical services violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishment by federal and state governments.

The Geneva Conventions stipulate that even prisoners of war be treated humanely in all circumstances and provided with food, clothing, hygiene and medical care. This raises a troubling question as to whether prisoners of war receive better treatment than the immigrants held in detention centers on U.S. soil.

Sharrie McIntosh, New York

The writer is vice president for programs of the
New York State Health Foundation.

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