Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

The Zelaya siblings, from El Salvador, Nayeli, right, Anderson, center, and Daniela, huddle together on a soccer field, at the sports club where Central American migrants traveling with the annual "Stations of the Cross" caravan are camped out, in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, April 4, 2018. The children's father Elmer Zelaya, 38, said the family is awaiting temporary transit visas that would allow them to continue to the U.S. border, where they hope to request asylum and join relatives in New York.
Felix Marquez/AP
Citizenship

Texas Detention Center for Migrant Children Compared to 'Prison'

Shelves of food, racks of clothes, and rows of checkout counters once filled the massive Walmart near the US-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas.

Now converted into a migrant detention center called Casa Padre, the space holds around 1,500 migrant boys between the ages of 10 and 17, according to The New York Times, in what some have described as prison-like conditions.

Two hours of outdoor time a day, lights out by 9 p.m., blacked-out windows, and back-to-back cots in each sleeping room are some of the features of this heavily supervised environment, which opened in March 2017.

There’s also a large mural of US President Donald Trump by the entrance.

Take Action: Refugee? Migrant? Human Being. Show Your Support for All People - No Matter Where They Were Born

Casa Padre is one of the more than 100 facilities housing more than 11,000 migrant youth in 17 states across the US, according to the Washington Post.

This particular facility became embroiled in controversy earlier this month when Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley was denied entry, stoking fears that the converted Walmart was harboring dark secrets.

Casa Padre’s operator, the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, invited reporters this week for a tour to dispel rumors. While it appears that gross abuses aren’t taking place, the mere act of detaining an innocent child is considered to be a human rights violation by the United Nations.

“The US should immediately halt this practice,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights agency, OHCHR, said in a statement. “[There is] nothing normal about detaining children. It is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation.”

Read More: Why Jeff Sessions' Ruling on Domestic Violence and Asylum Matters

Further, Casa Padre has been cited 13 times for deficiencies, ranging from failing to provide medical care to supervisors berating kids.  

In a viral tweet thread, MSNBC contributor Jacob Soboroff compared the conditions of the facility to a prison.

Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report documenting sexual assaults, inadequate medical care, and violent attacks in detention centers for migrant children.

Southwest Key Programs insists that Casa Padre is being operated in a caring manner, the Times reports.

Read More: What's Happening to Migrant Kids in the US?

There are more than 1,000 trained staff at the facility, including cooks, teachers, and medical professionals, and employees insisted to reporters that the environment was amenable.

“We pride ourselves in providing excellent child care,” said Alexia Rodriguez, Southwest Key’s vice president of immigrant children’s services.

“We’re not a political organization,” Rodriguez added. “We take care of kids. We take great care of kids.”

The vast majority of the detained children came to the US as unaccompanied minors, but some of the kids were separated from their parents at the border as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

The average stay for a child in Casa Padre is 56 days, according to the Times. Migrants crossing the Mexican border into the US are often escaping gang violence, political instability, grinding poverty, and other hardships, and many apply for asylum.  

The Trump administration’s new focus on arresting all migrants is straining the government’s detention system, according to Reuters. In April, 51,000 migrants were detained at the US-Mexico border, up from 16,000 during the same period last year.

Read More: UN Accuses US of Human Rights Violations for Separating Migrant Families

To accommodate this sharp rise, more than 1,600 immigrants were recently transferred to federal prisons, where they will be mixed in with general incarcerated populations, Reuters reports.

Now authorities are planning to build tent cities on Army and Air Force bases — an idea that’s being compared to the internment of US citizens of Japanese heritage in the 1940s.

Global Citizen campaigns to help migrants and refugees and you can take action on this issue here.