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Advocates Are Concerned About Conditions For Detained Migrant Children


Overcrowded, unhygienic, unsafe - those are just some of the words being used to describe the current conditions for migrant children detained by the United States. Warren Binford is part of a team of lawyers that visited some of these border detention facilities and talked with children there. She spoke to NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro over the weekend.


WARREN BINFORD: Many of them are sleeping on concrete floors, including infants, toddlers, preschoolers. That they are being given nothing but instant meals, Kool-Aid and cookies to exist on. That many of them are sick. We are hearing that many of them have not been given a shower for weeks.

MARTIN: Advocates are concerned about the long-term impact on children's health. One of them is Dr. Julie Linton. She co-chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

JULIE LINTON: Thank you so much. Good morning.

MARTIN: It's fairly obvious that living in those kinds of conditions that we've heard described, for any period of time, for a child is going to leave the mark of trauma. What has gone through your mind about the long-term effects if you - as you have heard these reports?

LINTON: As a pediatrician, I know that detention is dangerous for both the short- and long-term health of children. And we can and must make immediate and permanent changes to the way we treat children and families when they arrive at our border in search of safety.

MARTIN: I mean, the needs can be so different - right? - from adults. Pediatric care is a specialty because it's a population with special needs. Can you explain what these children might need that's different from their mothers or fathers right now?

LINTON: Yeah. Children are not just small adults. And their signs of illness can be subtle, and this is why we're urgently calling for pediatric expertise at our border with providers who can recognize the differences between a mildly ill child and a seriously ill child. For instance, children's vital sign parameters - meaning their breathing rate or their heart rate or their blood pressure - have different normal parameters than adults. And when children begin to get sick, they present with often subtle findings, and they can get sick much more quickly than adults.

MARTIN: And we are already hearing reports from these lawyers who visited the detention facilities. They were reporting that there are already many cases of children diagnosed with the flu, and so who knows how many others are suffering from those symptoms. I understand you've treated some of the kids who've been released from facilities like this. What was that like?

LINTON: Yes. As a community pediatrician, I can assure you that the unsafe and unhealthy conditions at our border are not limited to the border. And in our communities across the country, we're seeing children who have been impacted by these negative conditions. Just recently, I saw a little girl, an infant, who was in my clinic who had been with her mom. And they were in the processing center on the border, and mom had asked a Border Protection agent for medical attention because the infant was sick.

The response mom described to me was that the border guard gave her Tylenol. And she did not have access to a doctor, and they were actually released the next day from the processing facility. And two days later, the infant was hospitalized in my community with a severe respiratory illness. The conditions in the CBP processing centers are placing children at risk for getting sick. And when children do get sick, they're at risk for getting much worse.

MARTIN: The vice president, Mike Pence, spoke to CBS' "Face The Nation" over the weekend. And in that conversation, he was asked about these conditions that these migrant children are living in. And he blamed the situation by the fact that CPB, Customs and Border Protection, is just overwhelmed by the number of people crossing the border. Let's listen to this.


MARGARET BRENNAN: How is the executive totally powerless to do anything about these unsafe, unsanitary conditions?

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, we're doing a lot with what the Congress has given us. But again, Congress refused to increase the bed space in the last appropriations bill.

MARTIN: I mean, who does have the responsibility for changing these conditions right now? Is vice president right, that there's nothing the executive branch can do?

LINTON: I would actually argue that we have an urgent responsibility to make immediate and permanent changes to the way we treat family. And our current process at the U.S.-Mexico border is dangerous for the health and well-being of children. The reason conditions are worse right now is because the policies that have been and currently are being enacted by this administration - including separating families, detaining children and families for prolonged period of time and threatening raids that target families - are incredibly dangerous for children and families across the country.

MARTIN: Dr. Julie Linton, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

LINTON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.