Detained migrants say the needs of children and pregnant women are being broadly ignored by US immigration officers as they’re held in what have been described as “prison-like” conditions.
Adults and children alike face solitary confinement, lockdowns, and unsanitary bathrooms, according to hundreds of pages of court documents linked to a lawsuit filed by a group of state attorneys general over the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families.
The accounts of these migrants, many of whom fled violent situations in Central America, paint a bleak picture of life in US detention facilities – months of separation from their children only to find them traumatized and covered in lice once they were finally reunited.
‘He was full of dirt and lice’
Olivia Caceres, who was separated from her one-year-old son in November at a legal point of entry after making the harrowing journey to the US from El Salvador, struggled for three months to regain custody of her child.
When the young boy was finally returned to her, Caceres said, “He continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go. When I took off his clothes he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.”
Thousands of migrant children have been separated from their parents or guardians at the US-Mexico border as a consequence of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
The Trump administration on Monday told a federal judge it would not meet a deadlineset for Tuesday to reunite all separated migrant children aged four years or younger with their parents.
Accounts of other detained migrants detailed in the court documents allege Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents mocked their accents, took their jackets away to wake them up in the cold, and threw out their food before they were finished eating.
Gladys Monroy-Guerra de Tesucum, who said she fled to the US from Guatemala after her cousin, a drug trafficker, threatened to dismember her because she caught him raping her stepdaughter, said one ICE agent told her, “Don’t you know that we hate you people?”
‘My soul aches’
A separate report from BuzzFeed on the treatment of pregnant women detained by the US government alleges widespread abuse, including being shackled around the stomach and denied medical care.
One woman, who identified herself as “E” for fear of being punished in the San Diego detention facility she’s being held in, said she was denied help from staff at an Arizona facility she was previously detained in even as she was bleeding profusely and feared she was losing her baby.
“An official arrived and they said it was not a hospital and they weren’t doctors. They wouldn’t look after me,” she told BuzzFeed via phone. “I realized I was losing my son. It was his life that I was bleeding out. I was staining everything. I spent about eight days just lying down. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything. I started crying and crying and crying.”
Ultimately lost the child and she said her “soul aches that there are many pregnant women coming who could lose their babies like I did and that they will do nothing to help them.”