Originally published by The New Yoker
Hundreds of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents or family members are being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas. This week, a team of lawyers interviewed more than fifty children at one of those facilities, in Clint, Texas, in order to monitor government compliance with the Flores settlement, which mandates that children must be held in safe and sanitary conditions and moved out of Border Patrol custody without unnecessary delays. The conditions the lawyers found were shocking: flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of one another because of the lack of attention from guards. Some of them had been in the facility for weeks.
To discuss what the attorneys saw and heard, I spoke by phone with one of them, Warren Binford, a law professor at Willamette University and the director of its clinical-law program. She told me that, although Flores is an active court case, some of the lawyers were so disturbed by what they saw that they decided to talk to the media. We discussed the daily lives of the children in custody, the role that the guards are playing at the facility, and what should be done to unite many of the kids with their parents. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How many lawyers were in your party? And can you describe what happened when you arrived?
We had approximately ten lawyers, doctors, and interpreters in El Paso this past week. We did not plan to go to the Clint Facility, because it’s not a facility that historically receives children. It wasn’t even on our radar. It was at a facility that historically only had a maximum occupancy of a hundred and four, and it was an adult facility. So we were not expecting to go there, and then we saw the report, last week, that it appeared that children were being sent to Clint, so we decided to put four teams over there. The teams are one to two attorneys, or an attorney and an interpreter. The idea is that we would be interviewing one child at a time or one sibling group at a time.
How many interviews do you do in a day?
We do a screening interview first to see if the child’s most basic needs are being met. Is it warm enough? Do they have a place to sleep? How long have they been there? Are they being fed? And if it sounds like the basic needs are being met, then we don’t need to interview them longer. If, when we start to interview the child, they start to tell us things like they’re sleeping on the floor, they’re sick, nobody’s taking care of them, they’re hungry, then we do a more in-depth interview. And those interviews can take two hours or even longer. So it depends on what the children tell us. So I’d say, with a team of four attorneys, if you’re interviewing several groups, which we sometimes try to do, or if you interview older children who are trying to take care of younger children, then you are interviewing, let’s say, anywhere from ten to twenty children per day.
How many kids are at the facility right now, and do you have some sense of a breakdown of where they’re from?
When we arrived, on Monday, there were approximately three hundred and fifty children there. They were constantly receiving children, and they’re constantly picking up children and transferring them over to an O.R.R. [Office of Refugee Resettlement] site. So the number is fluid. We were so shocked by the number of children who were there, because it’s a facility that only has capacity for a hundred and four. And we were told that they had recently expanded the facility, but they did not give us a tour of it, and we legally don’t have the right to tour the facility.