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Asylum-seekers who cross the border and are apprehended by Border Patrol agents are forced to stay in cold rooms, called iceboxes or hieleras—which have been blamed for the death of at least one child and the serious illnesses of others. (Photo: @VotoLatino/Twitter)

5-Month-Old's Pneumonia Diagnosis Provokes More Condemnation of the 'Ice Boxes' Asylum-Seekers Are Forced Into at Border

"What dehumanization brings. You can only treat a baby this way if you don't see people Iike them as fully human."

Julia Conley

A five-month-old baby's diagnosis of pneumonia is bringing more attention to the conditions in which immigrants are held after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, days after another child died in U.S. custody.

The news of the baby's illness was met with condemnation by children's rights advocates and other critics of the U.S. government's border policies.

The baby's condition is the third case of a child falling ill while in U.S. custody that's been publicized in the past several days—causing alarm among critics who have denounced the secrecy with which immigration authorities are operating at the border.

Fleeing domestic and gang violence, the baby's mother brought her daughter with her from Honduras when she joined the group of migrants that arrived at the U.S. border last month. The baby became ill en route but was given antibiotics after her mother sought medical care during a stop in Mexico City.

According to NBC News, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents took the medicine away from the mother when they apprehended her after she crossed a border fence, placing her and her baby in a cold cell that families are routinely held in after being detained.

The National Immigration Law Center has called the "ice boxes," or hieleras, "inhumane" and "unconstitutional." Journalist Aura Bogado detailed the cells' conditions last week in a Twitter thread.

The only drinking water available to people in hielera is "gray and it's disgusting," wrote Bogado. "It routinely makes people sick. There isn't even a place to dry your hands after you wash them. Everything is full of fecal matter."

The baby became ill again over the two days she was forced to stay in the hielera, but the mother was reportedly dismissed by CBP agents as an "invader" who "no one told to cross" into the U.S.

The mother was eventually granted asylum after several days in detention in San Diego, and flew to North Carolina where she has family.

"By the time I arrived in North Carolina, my daughter had a fever," she told NBC. She has been hospitalized with pneumonia there.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) was among those who called for a congressional investigation into the conditions in which families are kept after crossing.


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