The nationwide system of Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies are investigating and monitoring the facilities where migrant children and youth are interned.
While other groups have been barred from access, the P&A Systems were intentionally granted unique access authority by Congress, which permits them to monitor and investigate any facilities where adults and children with disabilities live, work or receive services. This authority was affirmed by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in a memo issued on July 24, 2018.
P&As have already visited at least 17 facilities, with more monitoring visits and follow ups planned. Some of the issues identified by the P&As include:
• Forced use of powerful psychotropic drugs without medical oversight and/or parental/guardian consent and notice
• Apparent use of these psychotropic drugs to restrain children and/or control their behavior
• Apparent lack of treatment planning and medical follow up for children on psychotropic drugs
• Limited or no education
• Failure to accommodate and/or identify disability specific needs
Despite the fact that the Trump Administration’s child separation policy has ostensibly ended, the number of migrant children held in detention has increased five-fold since May 2017, from 2,400 at that time to 12,800 now. Children are held longer — including thousands now being held in an overflow tent city in Tornillo Texas — due to intentional changes in federal reunification policies. This swell in Tornillo alone will increase and currently costs taxpayers at least 386 million dollars.
These are children interned by our government, and we all have an obligation to ensure their safety and well-being.
When children enter the U.S. (with or without their parents), they are first processed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They are then placed in the custody of ORR until placed or deported. There has been coverage in the press of horrible conditions for children held by DHS facilities such as being made to eat frozen/inadequate food, subjected to physical abuse, and being required to sleep on mats under klieg lights.
Children are in DHS custody for a relatively shorter time than in ORR custody, which may drag on for months. Problems in ORR facilities may appear more nuanced than those identified in DHS, but will likely result in long term harm to children held by ORR.
Children who have been removed from their parents’ care are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect. We cannot contribute to this neglect, and P&As through their monitoring will be working to ensure these children do not suffer the added indignity of being abused or neglected after being taken from their parents.