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New Details of Horrific Child Abuse Cited in Emergency Restraining Order Request for 'Torture Facilities' Run by US Border Agency

"The preventable physical and mental health harms class members are suffering may be long-lasting, or in some cases, permanent."

As seen through fencing, migrants—including a young child—stand while being detained by Department of Homeland Security police after crossing to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, on June 27, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.

As seen through fencing, migrants—including a young child—stand while being detained by Department of Homeland Security police after crossing to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, on June 27, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A group of lawyers and advocates filed a request for an emergency restraining order aimed at ending the abuse of children in facilities operated by the federal government on the southern border, demanding a federal judge step in and take action.

The lawsuit (pdf), filed in California late Wednesday, asks U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee to order immediate inspections of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facilities in Texas, allow medical care to reach the children imprisoned in those facilities, and to create an "intensive case management team" to handle transfers from CBP to Health and Human Services.

The request cites testimony from children in detention as well as outside observers and offers new details of the conditions and treatment those detained have endured.

"I have been in the U.S. for six days and I have never been offered a shower or been able to brush my teeth," one of the imprisoned children said in their testimony. "There is no soap here and our clothes are dirty."

In comments on the case to The Los Angeles Times, Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and lead attorney on the lawsuit, said that the effects of the mistreatment in the detention centers could last forever.

"The preventable physical and mental health harms class members are suffering may be long-lasting, or in some cases, permanent," said Schey.

Conditions at the facilities are "deplorable," according to the lawsuit. 

"The declarations of class members also disclose that they are detained in what they call 'hieleras,' or 'iceboxes,' or in cages, under appalling, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions which has caused a health crisis for class members and the deaths of several children," says the lawsuit. "Class member children are held for weeks in deplorable conditions, without access to soap, clean water, showers, clean clothing, toilets, toothbrushes, adequate nutrition or adequate sleep."

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The Times reported that conditions in the facilities are causing illnesses like flu to spread because the children imprisoned are being denied "basic hygiene."

The impetus for the filing was the revelations from June 20 of "horrific" conditions for children held in detention centers in Texas. The stories that came out of those facilities, detailed by a legal team that visited the sites, sparked outrage. 

Testimony from the filing backed up the previous stories and went deeper, calling on experts to detail the effects of inhumane treatment on the children. One of the experts, Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, reported on her experiences visiting the facilities, calling them comparable to "torture facilities."

"That is, extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food," said Sevier. 

Sevier also said that parents reported infants drinking formula from filthy bottles that they were not allowed to clean.

Lawsuit lead attorney Schey, talking to the The Washington Postdenounced the Trump administration for unprecedented cruelty.

"In 33 years of representing unaccompanied detained children, through several administrations, both Republican and Democrat, we have never seen an administration act quite as callously and cruelly toward children as this one," Schey told the Post. "We have never seen the kind of widespread illness, malnutrition and deaths as under this administration. We've never seen anything like this before."

The filing had not been ruled upon at press time. 

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