Nov. 25 (UPI) — A new lawsuit filed by a non-profit law firm accuses U.S. Customs and Border Protection of detaining dozens of migrant children, including infants, over the last two months at southern border facilities for longer than 72 hours, and some for as long as 18 days.
The lawsuit dated Monday and filed in a California U.S. district court by the National Center for Youth Law accuses CBP of detaining 35 children for more than 72 hours last month alone, 15 of whom spent at least five days in unlicensed facilities, including two infants under the age of 10 months.
In September, 36 children were detained for longer than the legal three days, including a one-month-old infant who was held for 16 and a half days.
One of the minors, a 15-year-old who was detained at the Weslaco Border Patrol Station earlier this month, detailed being kept in a cramped room with 30 other minors, forcing them “to sleep in a sitting position because there were so many people in the room,” the lawsuit quotes him as saying.
The court document also accuses the CBP of failing to supply information that shows it is complying with COVID-19 requirements but details from testimony that the minors are not being properly protected from the pandemic.
“I have been given one disposable face mask and I have to use the same face mask every day,” the 15-year-old boy said. “I have not been provided hand sanitizer since my arrival. I have not been provided gloves. I do not have access to soap for hand washing.”
An 8-year-old boy at the same station who was separated from his ill mother said he does not know why he has been left alone.
“My mom is somewhere else,” he said, according to the lawsuit. “I think she is in the hospital because her back hurts. I have not been able to talk to her because she is sick. They told me that I cannot leave until she gets here.”
He also reported having no soap to wash his hands and that he was only given one face mask and that there is no social distancing being practiced.
“When we are in line, we sit or stand close together,” he is quoted as saying. “I think many people here will get sick from COVID. That makes me scared.”
The lawsuit says the defendants, who have been named as U.S. Attorney General William Barr and the United States, have “steadfastly refused” to disclose the reason the children were being detained.
A letter obtained by CNN, signed by Rep. Joaquin Castro and addressed to Department of Homeland Security head Chad Wolf, said holding children in CBP custody “for extended periods” is against the Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997 that applies child welfare protections to immigrant minors. Other laws require them to transfer unaccompanied minors to Office of Refugee Resettlement juvenile coordinators within 72 hours and that all detainees should generally not be held for longer than this time frame while officials should be expending every effort to discharge them as soon as possible.
“We demand an immediate explanation for these prolonged detentions and that DHS comply with the law and swiftly place unaccompanied children in the Office of Refugee Resettlement or parole accompanied children and families into the interior,” the letter reads.