Over the past year six children have died while in the custody of the Border Control on our southern border. Reports from news correspondents and members of Congress who have visited the immigrant detention centers where they are being held have described the scenes of children suffering from inadequate health care, hunger, sleeping on cement floors, and lacking such elementary articles of hygienic necessity such as soap and toothbrushes.
Now, a new element has been added to the situation. Just a few weeks ago (August 2019) our government announced a new regulation that would end the Flores agreement, in place since 1997, which had limited the amount of time migrant children could be held in custody to 20 days. The agreement was meant to insure that these children would not be kept in very restrictive settings for long periods of time and would receive acceptable standards of care and have access to lawyers.
With the new ruling abrogating the Flores agreement, children along with their parents could be held in custody indefinitely. The effect upon the children, according to child care authorities will be devastating.
An August 27 article in The New York Times by Leah Hibel, a professor of human development and family studies, and Caitlin Patier, a professor of sociology, strongly sets down the harmful effects such detention, even with family members present, will have on children. In the case of many of them, the harm will last for the rest of their lives.
Children Need More than Food and a Place to Sleep
“Detention centers,” they write, “are stressful, chaotic and unpredictable environments, especially for children.” Their developing brains and bodies “depend upon a safe environment rich with language and activities, where they can explore, move, play and create during the day, and have calm restorative sleep at night. Many detention centers are not equipped to provide these necessities. Scientific evidence shows that the deprived setting of a detention camp will stunt child cognitive, social, emotional and language development, making it harder for them to learn, follow directions, connect with peers, and handle stress,”
Children, particularly young children, need more than food and a place to sleep and the longer they are kept in these detention facilities, the worse will be the harm to the child.
“The government should not be in the business of harming and traumatizing children,” the authors write. They should be “working to comply with the Flores settlement and to design immigration policies that keep children and families out of detention, provide the right to seek asylum, and create pathways to citizenship.”