Lawyers representing children in U.S. immigration custody have sued the Biden administration over the treatment of child migrants in two Texas facilities. They alleged mental distress and “shockingly deplorable” conditions there.
The lawsuit, first reported by CBS News, focuses on two of a number of emergency intake sites (EISs) established by the Biden administration to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) established sites, including the Texas sites mentioned in the lawsuit, at Fort Bliss Army base and a camp in Pecos.
“Minimal standards and inadequate oversight at EISs has exposed thousands of children to unacceptable conditions that threaten their safety and well-being,” the lawsuit, filed by lawyers with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and the National Center for Youth Law, states. “In particular, the Fort Bliss and Pecos EISs have exposed children to shockingly deplorable conditions.”
The lawsuit alleges that in Pecos, children have “no religious services, few daily activities, and what little outdoor recreation they do have takes place in unshaded areas where temperatures sometimes reach over 110 degrees.”
Meanwhile, children in Fort Bliss have described sleeping in large groups with no privacy and hundreds of other children. According to the lawsuit, children at both facilities have insufficient access to medical care, have gone hungry, and have been served raw chicken.
The lawsuit claims that prolonged detention in such facilities violates the 1997 Flores settlement, which limits the length of time children can be detained and requires certain standards of child care. Among other things, the Flores settlement mandated that officials place children in state-licensed dependent care facilities “as expeditiously as possible.”
The lawsuit contends that the two EISs failed to meet those standards and requests that the court order the government to issue mandatory standards.
HHS said in a statement that while it couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, “we take our responsibility to provide safe, appropriate care for unaccompanied migrant children very seriously.”
According to a spokesperson, any reported incident will be investigated and disciplinary action will be taken, and at both locations “children receive educational and recreational activities, such as reading, art, and indoor and outdoor athletics.”
“Children at both sites have access to medical treatment, laundry service, they can call their family, they meet weekly with case managers, can access legal services and meet with mental and behavioral health counselors. We have increased case management services to unite children safely and expeditiously with family, while we continue to improve and streamline this process,” the spokesperson said.
According to HHS, the Pecos EIS houses children for an average of 24 days, while the Fort Bliss EIS houses them for an average of 14 days.