The Reports of Abuse of Migrant Children at the Border Should Horrify Us All

Overcrowded detention centers, cruel punishment, lice, sickness, death. It's happening on our watch.

News broke this weekend about the horrible conditions and state-sanctioned abuse the children being held at our southern border are enduring. Reports have surfaced explaining that the detention centers where immigrant children are being held to rot are overcrowded, filthy, infested with lice and sickness, and staffed by people who have become bluntly inured to the suffering of children. These reports should horrify every American.

Reading the latest news, I understand the urge to call the centers concentration camps — it’s an analogy that seems to track with the horror many of us feel. But what’s happening to the asylum-seeking children in these detention camps is not the work of villainous Nazi’s hell-bent on the extermination of another race. If it were, it would make some kind of twisted, horrendous logic. Instead, the suffering of immigrant children at the southern border is being perpetrated by American men and women — our neighbors, our countrymen — who are “doing their job” and “doing the best they can.” Meanwhile, the rest of us enjoy our summer days with little thought to the plight of the kids, some as young as four months, who are being traumatized by the brutal conditions of the centers. What is happening is not the crime of a lunatic death-cult. It is a true-blue American sin. As a father and an American, I am deeply ashamed of what our country is doing.

Before you accuse me of hyperbole, let’s dare to take an unflinching an open-eyed look at the reports. First, understand the latest reports surfaced after five infants — yes, infants — in the largest Customs and Border Patrol Facility in McCallen, Texas, which holds up to 1,000, were sent to a neonatal intensive care unit with flu symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting. The lawyers who asked that the children be hospitalized reported seeing a toddler whose eyes were rolled back into his head. He was limp and “unresponsive.”

Nazis didn’t create the conditions for sickness, Americans did.

The hospitalization prompted a visit to the center, known as Ursula, by Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier. Dr. Sevier assessed 39 migrant children and reported to ABC news that they had been subjected to extreme cold, an environment lit 24-hours a day, and had “no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.”

In a report obtained by ABC, Servier wrote the conditions could be “compared to torture facilities.”

The SS weren’t staffing these facilities, Americans were.

Reports from other facilities are just as shocking. Lawyers report some 350 children are being held in a detention center in Clint, Texas. The youngest of these children being four-and-a-half months old. In that facility, 25 children were in a holding cell where lice had been discovered on six children. CBP agents gave the six children lice shampoo and then gave two lice combs to the other 19 children and told them to take care of the situation. When the children lost one of the combs, CBP agents punished them by taking away their blankets and sleeping mats and forcing them to sleep a night on the concrete floor despite the availability of beds.

At this same facility, CBP agents had appointed a 13-year-old detainee to be the “child boss” and keep others in detainment in line. In another instance, a lawyer came across a diaper-less 2-year-old who was being watched by a group of little girls. When the lawyer asked where the child’s diaper was the girls looked ashamed and suggested the child didn’t need them. At that point, the child urinated in his pants and started crying.

The Third Reich wasn’t responsible, the American political establishment was.

The stories, as ugly as they are, should not come as a surprise. Lawyers for the Trump administration have been in a pitched battle against the rules that have been established for the care of migrant children. Those rules are part of the Flores agreement, which states that children be held for no longer than 72 hours in the “least restrictive setting appropriate to the child’s age and special needs.” But last Tuesday lawyers for the administration argued that providing soap, toothbrushes, or beds were unnecessary under the agreement.

Seven immigrant children are known to have died in the custody of CBP. These deaths occurred on American soil, under the watch of Americans.

When I think of all these children, I think of my sons and my heart breaks open. I could not imagine my kids in a similar situation. They would be haunted and traumatized for the rest of their life. And it’s only by sheer luck they were born to me. It’s only sheer luck that they were not born into the poverty and strife of Guatemala, like 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo who fled the country with his father, only to die on Christmas Eve, in New Mexico, after a week in CBP custody.

Sadly, the immigration crisis has led to useless and shameful political finger-pointing in Washington. But the partisan ideological shouting match is doing nothing for kids who are suffering right now. Parents of every background should not be blaming, but simply demanding action. We can’t have another immigrant child’s death on our national conscience.

It will soon be the 4th of July. It is my hope, as we celebrate the anniversary of our country’s independence, that our national conscience will be troubled. It’s my hope that the lyrics of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” taste sour in our mouths and every reference to a “nation of immigrants” feels hollow and depraved.

As an act of patriotism, in this patriotic season, we should show our children that the greatest American act is demanding better of our country. Because the trauma suffered by immigrant children is not being perpetrated by some long-vanquished enemy re-emerging on our soil. It’s being perpetrated by us.