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Migrants Describe Unsanitary And Overcrowded Detention Conditions


A new federal court filing has detailed accounts from migrant children and their families about conditions they experienced recently in federal detention. And these accounts are not reassuring. Migrants spoke of cold concrete floors and also trouble sleeping because facility lights were left on all night. Some said bathroom facilities were not clean, and running water was scarce. These stories were collected by volunteer lawyers and interpreters who recently interviewed more than 200 immigrants in holding facilities and detention centers. Alex Hall, from member station KQED, has been reporting on family separations and the detention of migrants. And she joins us. Hi, Alex.


GREENE: So tell me how this court filing fits into the larger picture that we've been covering here.

HALL: Yeah, so this is the latest filing in a long settlement agreement that basically sets the standards for how migrant kids should be treated in detention centers. The filing includes hundreds of detailed, vivid statements from kids and their parents explaining what they've experienced and what they've witnessed in government-run detention facilities.

Some of the kids describe being denied water or only being given food that smelled bad or was frozen. One boy in particular talked about how he drank the water, and it made his stomach feel funny. There was another woman who said that she and her children were wearing wet clothing when they were detained because they had just crossed a river. And she said that they stayed in their wet clothes in a room where the AC was turned up pretty high for two days straight. And they weren't allowed to shower or change clothes.

GREENE: So you have been reading this filing and getting all of these stories, but you've also been reporting on one family yourself that experienced these detention facilities firsthand. Tell me about who they are and what they had to say.

HALL: Right. So I met Elisabet (ph) and her husband and their three small children the day that they were requesting asylum at the border. This is a couple hours east of San Diego. And they asked that I not use their last name because they're fleeing violence in Mexico. They fear that criminal groups could find them where they are now. Here's part of an interview that I had with Elisabet.

ELISABET: (Speaking Spanish).

GREENE: So what is she telling you there about her experience?

HALL: So she was held by Customs and Border Protection for six days. And the conditions that she told me about - that she described were very similar to what you read about in these court filings. She talks about how freezing it was in the facility where they were held - her and her children - how there were bugs in the mats on the floor where they slept. She said her kids didn't get enough food. They were given spaghetti with meat that smelled bad. She noticed that they were starting to lose weight. And her 1-year-old son was only being given formula while they were there. But he needed solid food, and he started to get sick. And so she asked an officer for solid food for the baby. And you can hear in the tape. She says that the officer responded, this isn't a seven-star hotel. What do you want - dead kids or skinny kids?

GREENE: Oh, my God. The officer said that?

HALL: That's what she said. And I asked Customs and Border Protection about that. And they didn't specifically respond to that allegation. But that is what she said.

GREENE: Where is she now and her family?

HALL: Elisabet eventually gave up her asylum application. Like I said, she was in custody for six days. And she said that after those six days - she says that she was never told when she was going to be leaving. And so she said that she just couldn't stand to see her kids hungry anymore. And she voluntarily withdrew her claim for asylum. She also says that out of the nine other moms there around six or seven also withdrew their claims. Elisabet is now back in Mexico with her kids.

GREENE: Alex Hall from member station KQED. Alex, thanks.

HALL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Hall

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