Monday, July 8, 2019 | 2 a.m.
By now, Americans are all too familiar with the awful conditions in which immigrants at U.S. border facilities are being detained.
Overcrowding, inadequate food supplies, poor or nonexistent access to health care, unavailability of hygiene supplies and lack of proper bedding are among the conditions that have been reported and verified by government inspectors and doctors who toured facilities.
How substandard are these facilities? For the answer, compare the conditions as described by detainees and doctors (in written testimony for a lawsuit) with Geneva Conventions requirements for treatment of prisoners of war.
“I’m hungry here at Clint all the time,” a 12-year-old from Guatemala told lawyers about the detention facility in Clint, Texas. “I’m so hungry that I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with hunger. Sometimes I wake up from hunger at 4 a.m., sometimes at other hours. I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me.”
Chapter II (quarters, food and clothing), Article 26:“The basic daily food rations shall be sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to keep prisoners of war in good health and to prevent loss of weight or the development of nutritional deficiencies. Account shall also be taken of the habitual diet of the prisoners.”
“I have had a cold and cough for several days,” said a 5-year-old girl from Honduras who was also detained at the Clint facility and had been separated from her father. “I have not seen a doctor and I have not been given any medicine.”
Chapter III (hygiene and medical attention), Article 30: “Every camp shall have an adequate infirmary where prisoners of war may have the attention they require, as well as appropriate diet. Isolation wards shall, if necessary, be set aside for cases of contagious or mental disease.”
“There were more than 200 of us in a single cage — seated on the floor, standing, however we could fit,” a 33-year-old man from Honduras told the Texas Tribune about the McAllen, Texas, detention facility. He described detainees gagging and vomiting over the smell coming from overflowing toilets. “The bathrooms are full, they aren’t cleaning them regularly,” he said.
Chapter III (hygiene and medical attention), Article 29: “The Detaining Power shall be bound to take all sanitary measures necessary to ensure the cleanliness and healthfulness of camps and to prevent epidemics.”
“We sleep on a cement bench,” an 8-year-old from Honduras said about the Clint facility. “There are two mats in our room, but the big kids sleep on the mats so we have to sleep on the cement bench.”
Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who interviewed 39 detainees: “The conditions in which they were held could be compared to torture facilities. That is, extreme cold temperatures, lights being kept on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to health care, basic sanitation, water or adequate food.”
Chapter II (quarters, food and clothing), Article 25: “Prisoners of war shall be quartered under conditions as favorable as those for the forces of the Detaining Power who are billeted in the same area. The said conditions shall make allowance for the habits and customs of the prisoners and shall in no case be prejudicial to their health. The foregoing provisions shall apply in particular to the dormitories of prisoners of war as regards both total surface and minimum cubic space, and the general installations, bedding and blankets.”
“I have only been allowed to bathe twice since I came here,” the 8-year-old Honduran girl said. “My sister has only been allowed to bathe once. The water is very cold. Some kids don’t mind the cold water, but I wish it (were) warm. We have only been allowed to brush our teeth twice here. There is no soap except when you take a bath.”
Chapter III (hygiene and medical attention), Article 29: “Prisoners of war shall have for their use, day and night, conveniences which conform to the rules of hygiene and are maintained in a constant state of cleanliness.”
Chapter I (general observations), Article 22: “Prisoners of war may be interned only in premises located on land and affording every guarantee of hygiene and healthfulness.”
“We are kept in a cage,” said a 17-year old migrant from Guatemala, who was being held with his 8-year-old nephew at a facility in McAllen. “There is no room to move without stepping over the others. We were not given a mat to sleep on, so we had to sleep on the cold, concrete floor. The lights are on all the time. We were both very cold last night. I did not get any sleep, I stayed up worried about my nephew making sure he was safe.”
Chapter II (quarters, food and clothing), Article 25: “The premises provided for the use of prisoners of war, individually or collectively, shall be entirely protected from dampness and adequately heated and lighted, in particular between dusk and lights out.”
“We have been wearing the same clothes the entire time we’ve been here and no one has washed them,” the 8-year-old Honduran girl said.
Chapter II (quarters, food and clothing), Article 27: “Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war in sufficient quantities by the Detaining Power, which shall make allowance for the climate of the region where the prisoners are detained.”
And there, perhaps, lies the central question in this national disgrace: Would we allow members of our armed forces — or any Americans, for that matter, or even captured enemy combatants — to endure the conditions being described at the border?
Of course not. We must demand that these facilities be cleaned up and that immigrants and asylum-seekers be treated with care and compassion. And we must remember this situation during the 2020 election.
Past administrations would have sanctioned other governments for conditions like this. Now, we’re the perpetrators.
America is far better than this.