- The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency told INSIDER that 18 infants under the age of 1 are currently being held in two family detention centres in Texas.
- The news comes shortly after immigration groups released a letter expressing “grave concerns” about the infants held in the Dilley facility, one of whom was just five months old.
- The letter also said some of the babies were sick or had lost weight while in custody.
- ICE said in a statement that the detention centres are all “open environment” facilities, and include “medical care, play rooms, social workers, educational services, and access to legal counsel.”
Detention facilities for immigrant families are currently holding 18 infants under the age of one, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency told INSIDER in a statement on Friday.
Seventeen of the babies are being held in the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and one is in the Karnes County Residential Center, the agency said.
The news comes shortly after immigration groups released a letter expressing “grave concerns” about the infants held in the Dilley facility, one of whom was just five months old.
The ICE statement said the number of infants in the agency’s custody has increased along with the number of migrant families apprehended crossing the US-Mexico border.
“As such, ICE is seeing an uptick in the number of family units with infants at its family residential centres (FRCs),” the statement said.
Read more: Sexual abuse allegations have been a problem in migrant children’s shelters for years. The Trump administration separated thousands of kids from their families and sent them to those shelters anyway.
ICE added that the detention facilities – there are only three in the entire country that detain migrant families – are all “open environment” facilities, and include “medical care, play rooms, social workers, educational services, and access to legal counsel.”
The letter, jointly written by the American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, demanded that the agency immediately release the babies and their mothers, arguing that ICE “repeatedly has demonstrated an inability” to met basic standards of care for children.
The letter also said detained mothers have told their legal advisers that their babies are suffering while being detained, and have even lost weight of become sick in custody.
Other mothers have said the babies aren’t feeding well due to sudden changes in the formula used in the detention facilities, and some have said the infants have shown behavioural or sleep-related problems, according to the letter.
“We have grave concerns about the lack of specialised medical care available in Dilley for this vulnerable population,” the letter said. “Medical and mental health experts … have also admonished the detention of young children, even for brief periods of time.”
ICE said it provides comprehensive medical care to all those in its custody, and that the agency employs a range of health care professionals.
“Staffing includes registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, licensed mental health providers, mid-level providers that include a physician’s assistant and nurse practitioner, a physician, dental care, and access to 24-hour emergency care,” the statement said. “Pursuant to our commitment to the welfare of those in the agency’s custody, ICE spends more than $US250M annually on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to those in our care.”
News of the detentions sparked outrage on Thursday and Friday – even former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in.
Babies should not be in detention.
“At least nine infants younger than a year old, including one who is just 5 months old, are being held in ICE custody at a rural Texas detention center without care that's legally required.” https://t.co/qsiJdhxJj2
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 1, 2019
Government agencies have long been criticised for their handling of migrant children in custody. Earlier this week, Rep. Ted Deutch, of Florida, released documents from the Department of Health and Human Services showing that thousands of migrant children were allegedly sexually abused in government-administered shelters.
The Customs and Border Protection agency also came under heavy criticism late last year, after two young migrant children died in Border Patrol custody.
Read the immigration groups’ full letter below:
- The government is set to build a massive, $US192 million facility in El Paso to process migrant families, in the wake of 2 children’s deaths in Border Patrol custody
- ‘This golf course was built by illegals’: Unauthorised immigrants who reportedly worked for Trump illegally say they helped him get to where he is today
- Thousands of migrant children were reportedly sexually abused in US government custody