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Immigrant Children Moved From Texas Detention Center Because Of Unsanitary Conditions


Another immigration story that we are following today - Customs and Border Protection has reportedly moved hundreds of children out of a temporary holding facility in Clint, Texas, after multiple reports on unsanitary conditions there. One of the people who raised the alarm was Elora Mukherjee. She's director of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School. She visited the center near El Paso last week where more than 300 migrant kids were being held.


ELORA MUKHERJEE: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: What's your take on this move by CBP today?

MUKHERJEE: CBP is trying to move children out of Clint, which is in the spotlight, and to other facilities. We don't know where those children are being moved. We don't know if those facilities have the same appalling conditions that we've seen in Clint, Texas. Last week in Clint, we saw hundreds of children who reported - we interviewed many children who said that they were hungry. They were obviously dirty. They were sick. They were scared. And they'd been detained by Customs and Border Patrol for weeks on end, some for nearly a month. And the other facilities may have similar problems.

We have learned that some of the children have reportedly been moved to a facility outside of El Paso, where our team also went last week. At that facility, there were also not sufficient access to toothbrushes, to showers, to beds for children to sleep in. So we need to investigate where the children have been moved and what the conditions there are.

SHAPIRO: So your concern is that CBP is responding to complaints about one particular facility rather than complaints about a system that subjects children to these conditions in a variety of facilities. Is that right?

MUKHERJEE: That's exactly right. A 2008 law that was passed with unanimous bipartisan support and signed by President George W. Bush requires that children be in CBP custody for 72 hours, three days, or less. And we need to know that the children that have been moved out of Clint have been released from federal immigration custody. Every child we spoke with has family members in the United States who are desperate to have their beloved children back. And those children belong with their families. They do not belong in detention.

SHAPIRO: Tell us a little bit about the conditions that you saw when you visited this Clint facility last week.

MUKHERJEE: The children are hungry. They're not being given enough food. They're given the same food day after day. Many of the children have had no opportunity to take a shower or a bath since crossing the border weeks ago. There is a stench that emanates from the children because they haven't had an opportunity to wash their clothing. They're wearing the same clothes for weeks that they crossed the border in. There are very young children - 1, 2, 3 years old - who are being cared for by older children who are not related to them. And when I say older children, I mean 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds.


MUKHERJEE: The children are locked in their cells and cages for long periods of time, nearly all day. Most of the children who I spoke with have no opportunities to go outside.

SHAPIRO: Wow. Now, Customs and Border Protection says that they are doing the best they can with limited resources, and they just need more money for more facilities and more beds. In our last 30 seconds or so, do you agree that that is the needed solution?

MUKHERJEE: The immediate solution is that the administration follows the law. The law requires that children not be detained in these facilities for longer than 72 hours. We need congressional hearings immediately to investigate the conditions in which children are being held across the border as well as adults. And all children deserve access to basic hygiene items, such as soap and showers and toothbrushes which many of the children at Clint were not given.

SHAPIRO: Elora Mukherjee of Columbia Law School, thank you for joining us today.

MUKHERJEE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.