“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free. Send the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I will lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
We are all familiar with those words. They were written by Emma Lazarus and are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. The statue was meant to be a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. It was once considered a sign of hospitality, diversity and inclusion.
If the truth were told, most American citizens are descendants of immigrants from another country.
Last week the acting director of Homeland Security found himself in the hotseat over allegations of deplorable conditions at the facilities currently being used to house detained immigrants at the southern border.
A recent expose in the New York times described some unsettling stories from the Clint, Texas border facility.
The report documented outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chicken pox among hundreds of the children. One agent described taking away beds from the children to make more space in the holding cells.
The stench of unwashed bodies, poor health and vacant eyes of the hundreds of children being held there shocked the reporters.
Facilities in McAllen, Texas and Clint, Texas have come under fire for the poor conditions the children are being subjected to.
Lawyers who visited one of the facilities described children in filthy clothes, often lacking diapers and had no access to soap.
A man who identified himself as a Customs and Border Protection chief accountability officer recently visited one of the sites.
The facility was over capacity with 291 children. He found lice infestation and children told him about being hungry and being forced to sleep on the floor. In his report to the government, he stated the facility was in compliance with current standards.
Monitors from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s office have detailed serious problems with overcrowding at Customs and Border Protection facilities in the Texas Rio Grande facilities. Yet, government officials have argued they have responded as best they can.
The review of the Clint, Texas facility showed officials at that facility knew for months that some of the children had no beds to sleep on, no way to clean themselves and often went hungry. Border agents at the facility say they had repeatedly warned their superiors about the overcrowded conditions, but no action was taken.
Agents say they risk their jobs if they speak about their work without permission.
Officials have allowed reporters and members of Congress on controlled tours but prohibited phones or cameras inside and have restricted access to certain areas.
The number of children being held peaked at 700 earlier this year. One cell contained 20 girls while toddlers were locked in another cell and being cared for by older children.
Unaccompanied boys were kept in a converted loading area that holds 50. Until recently they were kept in a tent outside.
A recent internal investigation at that facility found it is several times over capacity and has horrendous living conditions.
At least six children have died while in custody and doctors who visited have described children having lifesaving medication taken away or released with serious ailments without any medical records from their time in detention.
There are numerous reports of children going unfed and unwashed. Some migrants say they were not given fresh water but forced to drink from the toilets.
After the New York Times story broke detailing the lack of diapers and other personal hygiene products, groups in Texas were so appalled they started packing up supplies and taking them to the facilities but were turned away without the items being accepted.
Lawyers for the United States Department of Justice argued in court that the government shouldn’t be required to give migrant children inside the detention facilities toothbrushes, soap, towels or showers.
According to government guidelines the DHS, CPD and Border Patrol agencies cannot accept private donations until there is a change in current law.
The exploitation of these vulnerable immigrants is being used by one party to make a political statement and as a weapon to shame and discredit by the other.
One veteran Border Patrol Agent said a group of court appointed lawyers and doctors showed up at his facility one day for an inspection. He recounted his story to USA Today.
He recalled one of the lawyers on the phone yelling about there being a “crisis down here.”
He said he also remembered thinking, “I don’t know why she is shouting, no one on the other end cares because if they did, this wouldn’t be happening.”
The truth can often be painful.