Elizabeth Warren Describes 'Horrors' at Border Processing Center

Illustration for article titled Elizabeth Warren Describes 'Horrors' at Border Processing Center
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In an article published by Daily Kos, Sen. Elizabeth Warren delivered yet more horrifying information about the family separation crisis at the border.


Warren visited the McAllen Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center and the Port Isabel Detention Center. The latter has been presented by the Department of Homeland Security as “the primary family reunification and removal center for adults in their custody,” but Warren says she discovered otherwise:

I met with the head of the facility. He said several times that they had no space for children, no way to care for them, and no plans to bring any children to his locked-down complex. When I pressed on what was the plan for reunification of children with their parents, he speculated that HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) would take the children somewhere, but it certainly wasn’t going to be to his facility. When I asked how long HHS would take, he speculated that it would be weeks, but he said that was up to them.

When Warren visited McAllen, she was shown a propaganda video “with gory pictures about the threats that these immigrants bring to the United States, from gangs to skin rashes,” and met people who said they had been trapped in the facility’s cages for weeks, rather than the “72 hours max” officials claimed; she also met children in cages, separated from their families. “They had nothing–no books, no toys, no games. They looked shell shocked,” she wrote. CBP agents told Warren that women caged with their children could be “detained indefinitely.” She didn’t see any babies, but noted, chillingly, that a group of mothers she spoke to “say that they can hear babies cry at night.”

She also met with a group of public defenders and legal experts, who disputed the Trump administration’s characterization of the “reunification” process and even what the administration considers a “separation”:

The Trump administration may be “reunifying” families, but their definition of a family is only a parent and a child. If, for example, a 9-year-old crosses with an 18-year-old sister – or an aunt or uncle, or a grandparent, or anyone who isn’t the child’s documented legal guardian – they are not counted as a family and they will be separated.

Mothers and children may be considered “together” if they’re held in the same gigantic facility, even if they’re locked in separate cages with no access to one another. (In the world of CBP and ICE, that’s how the 10-year-old girls locked in a giant cage are “not separated” from their mothers who are in cages elsewhere in the facility.)

In the process of “reunifying” families, the government may possibly count a family as reunited by sending the child to a distant relative they’ve never met – not their parents. Some relatives may be unwilling to claim these children because it would be inviting ICE to investigate their own families.

Warren emphasized that the traumatic conditions of family separation are impacting asylum seekers’ ability or willingness to continue to fight their cases, as advocates told the Washington Post yesterday. Rhetorically, the Trump administration may have temporarily retreated from their policy of separating families, but on the ground, the torture clearly continues apace. To read her full testimony, click here.

Ellie is a freelance writer and former senior writer at Jezebel. She is pursuing a master's degree in science journalism at Columbia University in the fall.


The Noble Renard

McAllen is often called a “perrera” by people who’ve been through it. That’s “Doghouse,” because the people inside it feel like they’ve been caged like dogs.

Depressingly, you often end up asking people whether they went through the “hielera” (icebox) or the “perrera.” Both are fucking awful, but for different reasons. The hielera is a concrete box where you’re crammed like sausages into a small concrete room with multiple other people in frigid conditions, with benches to sit on but no beds. The perrera is just sleeping on the ground in a much more open space, but you’re in a fucking cage.

During your time in either of these short-term detention centers that CBP runs (“short-term” means that CBP generally intends to release people within 72 hours), you’ll generally be fed three “meals” a day, and two “snacks.” In many hieleras, themeals” often consist of one microwaved Goya bean burrito (~350 calories), one juice box (~60 calories), and one packet of crackers (~200 calories). The snacks consist of a juice box and a packet of crackers. Sometimes the meals just consist of a couple slices of baloney on wonderbread. Children are supposed to get nutritionally appropriate meals, but other than babies/toddlers who’ll get slightly better food, they generally don’t.

The food is so bad that many migrants refuse to eat it after a couple of times getting the same shit. One asylum-seeker once told me that even the trip through Mexico wasn’t as bad as her three days in the perrera; locked in a fucking cage, terrified, unsure of what was going to happen, and being fed awful food that barely enough calories to stave off hunger pangs.

The thing is, at least in the past, at least families got to stay together during the perrera and the hielera stage. Sure, it was very traumatizing... but at least the kids had their parents there to cling to. Now it’s just incredibly traumatizing.