Conflicting descriptions of the care of child migrants at a U.S. Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, are emerging as journalists, pastors, and lawmakers tour the facility where terrible conditions were reported two weeks ago.
For the past few years, a team of lawyers from Human Rights Watch has monitored Border Patrol detention centers to ensure they abide by the Flores Settlement, a set of rules regulating how the government can hold migrant children. After they visited the facility in Clint two weeks ago, they shared stories of guards refusing children showers, medicine, and food, as well as older kids caring for younger children and young mothers sleeping on concrete floors with their babies.
A public outcry followed, and the government moved the children to different detention centers. One hundred of the approximately 250 children from Clint were returned to the facility later that week with no report of improved conditions. Last Wednesday, Border Patrol agents gave reporters a tour of the station, and they noted that things did not appear nearly as bad as the lawyers described. (The lawyers did not tour the facility but talked with 60 children, including 30 in-depth interviews.)
On Friday, Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, toured the facility with several other pastors. In a conference call with reporters, Rodriguez described what he saw as “revealing, encouraging, and heartbreaking.” He said he saw sports equipment, hall and door monitors, and children receiving snacks whenever they asked. Rodriguez and the other pastors were not allowed to talk with children, but they praised the hard work of the Border Patrol agents who were working to care for the kids despite the lack of resources.
Clara Long, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, was part of the team that initially visited the facility. She pointed out that the Clint Border Patrol station was never meant for children, but at one point 700 children stayed there. “We found that kids were being held in these conditions for weeks,” Long told me. With now closer to 100 children, the facility conditions will be better, but “these Border Patrol stations are essentially jails,” she said. “It’s inappropriate for any period of time beyond, say, a few hours. But what’s different here is we found that kids were being held in these conditions for weeks.”
Long agreed with the sentiment Rodriguez expressed: “We have to find a solution to this crisis as expeditiously as possible.”
Nearly a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other lawmakers visited the Clint facility and another in El Paso, Texas, on Monday. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted after the tour that migrants were forced to “drink out of toilets.” An official from the Clint facility denied the allegation, saying that the locations lawmakers toured had appliances where the sink dispenses safe drinking water but is attached to the toilet.