ABA Criminal Justice Standards on Treatment of Prisoners
(a) Correctional authorities should maintain living quarters and associated common areas in a sanitary condition. Correctional authorities should be permitted to require prisoners able to perform cleaning tasks to do so, with necessary materials and equipment provided to them regularly and without charge.
“'Border Patrol agents told us some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks,’ the inspector general’s office said in its report, which noted that some detainees were observed standing on toilets in the cells ‘to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets.’"
(b) Correctional authorities should provide prisoners with clean, appropriately sized clothing suited to the season and facility temperature and to the prisoner’s work assignment and general, in quantities sufficient to allow for a daily change of clothing. Prisoners should receive opportunities to mend and machine launder their clothing if the facility does not provide these services. Correctional authorities should implement procedures to permit prisoners to wear street clothes when they appear in court before a jury.
“Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk."
(c) Correctional authorities should provide prisoners, without charge, basic individual hygiene items appropriate for their gender, as well as towels and bedding, which should be exchanged or laundered at least weekly. Prisoners should also be permitted to purchase hygiene supplies in a commissary.
“Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.
‘There is a stench,’ said Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, one of the lawyers who visited the facility. ‘ The overwhelming majority of children have not bathed since they crossed the border.’”
Consider this one of the semi-regular reminders that we have a humanitarian crisis of our own creation at the border. From descriptions from the lawyers who have been able to go into the detention facilities and speak with their immigrant clients, we have hundreds of children and young people detained in the most deplorable conditions possible.
Elora Mukherjee, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and one of the lawyers who has visited the facilities, said the conditions in the Clint facility were the worst she had seen in any facility in her twelve year career. “So many children are sick, they have the flu, and they’re not being properly treated,” she said.
“The children are locked in their cells and cages nearly all day long,” Ms. Mukherjee said. “A few of the kids said they had some opportunities to go outside and play, but they said they can’t bring themselves to play because they are trying to stay alive in there.”
The children told the lawyers that they were given the same meals every day, repetitive and not enough. “Nearly every child I spoke with said that they were hungry.”
Similar conditions have been discovered at six other facilities in Texas. At the Border Patrol’s Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, the lawyers found a 17-year-old mother from Guatemala who couldn’t stand because of complications from an emergency C-section, and who was caring for a sick and dirty premature baby. “They wouldn’t give her any water to wash her.”
We know these conditions are deplorable, and yet our government is arguing that basic sanitation should not be mandated under the legal settlement governing the facilities. The guidelines require that a facility for children must be “safe and sanitary.” And our government has argued that soap and toothbrushes are not necessary for safe and sanitary. The Justice Department’s lawyer, Sarah Fabian, argued that the settlement agreement did not specify the need to supply hygienic items and that, therefore, the government did not need to do so.
Here’s the thing - as we can see above, we treat prisoners better than we are treating migrant children at the border. We make sure that prisoners - murderers, thieves, rapists, predators - we make sure they have clean clothes, they have soap, the are able to wash, to make sure they are fed and clean. To not do so would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
So why is it okay to forgo all those necessities at the border?
Is it just out of sight, out of mind?
Or have we really de-humanized them that much?
Because they are not American?
Or, because they are brown?
Are we that callous as a society?
I know there is a part of society that assumes that everyone crossing the border deserves this fate because they are not coming the right way. Despite the fact that illegal crossing was previously a misdemeanor - punished by a fine or very minimal incarceration. Even if we were to treat these migrants as the most heinous criminals, we still see that our treatment of them does not match our traditional punishment for crimes.
That’s even overlooking the minor detail that these are children. Children we are subjecting to the worst and most inhumane treatment we can offer.
“‘Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?’ Judge William Fletcher asked Ms. Fabian. ‘ I find it inconceivable that the government would say that is safe and sanitary.’”