Decrying an "alarming increase" in the jailing of infants in immigrant detention facilities in recent months, several immigrant rights groups were joined Thursday by a group of physicians in filing a federal complaint demanding the release of at least nine babies from a west Texas facility that lacks even the "basic standards of care" for newborns.
The babies have been held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), some for longer than 20 days, with no regard for what authorities might get them adequate medical attention in the event of an emergency, wrote the groups in their complaint.
"Given the proven serious health and mental health harms of child detention, which are particularly dangerous in the case of infants and young children and can negatively impact their life trajectories... release these families without any further delay." —Physicians for Human Rights
"We write to demand the simultaneous release of these infants and their mothers," wrote the American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Catholic Legal Immigration Network. "ICE is required to meet basic standards of care for minor non-citizens in its custody. It repeatedly has demonstrated an inability to do so."
The infants are all under a year old—some are younger than six months—and although they are being detained with their mothers, any detention of children will likely have serious lasting effects on their emotional and physical health, three doctors with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) wrote in an accompanying letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
"Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated that the mitigating factor of parental presence does not negate the damaging impact of detention on the physical and mental health of children," wrote doctors Susannah Sirkin, Katherine Ratzan Peeler, and Roya Ijadi-Maghsoodi, adding that the trauma ICE has inflicted on the babies' parents can also negatively affect infants' development and well-being:
The high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, trauma, and mental health issues among parents in detention, often exacerbated by the traumatic experience of detention and lack of adequate mental health care in detention settings, can impact a child’s attachment, bonding, and development.
PHR highlighted several cases of very young children who have suffered grave harm in ICE detention, including a 27-day-old baby who was born during his mother's journey to the border and who suffered a seizure in detention, having been giving no medical attention when he was detained. Another 16-month-old baby lost a third of his body weight due to an untreated stomach ailment.
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One rights group called the reports of ICE's continued abuse of children "crimes against humanity" on social media.
— Indigenous Anarchist Federation (@IAF__FAI) March 1, 2019
Jailing babies. Part of pattern of criminalizing immigrant children— incarcerating them in larger numbers for longer time periods, causing serious health harms & hampering access to justice. Thanks @immcouncil @AILANational & @cliniclegal for fighting this. https://t.co/6CH1l80gwg
— Laila L. Hlass (@Prof_Hlass) March 1, 2019
The mothers of the nine infants in the detention center in Dilley have reported their babies have lost weight since being detained, having undergone a sudden change in formula and feeding schedules, and are exhibiting feeding and sleeping challenges.
Reminding Nielsen of the deaths of at least two children in immigrant detention centers in recent months—seven-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez—PHR demanded that the Trump administration ensure no more children meet the same entirely preventable fate.
"Given the proven serious health and mental health harms of child detention, which are particularly dangerous in the case of infants and young children and can negatively impact their life trajectories," wrote the doctors, "PHR urges the United States Department of Homeland Security to move to release these families without any further delay."