It wasn't the cheeriest City Club talk I've ever been to, but it was one of the most important.
Today Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor and children's rights expert, spoke about the history of child separations at the Mexican border and her four day visit to the Clint, Texas Border Patrol Facility.
Binford told us that the Clint facility, better termed a child warehouse, was built for about 100 adults, yet housed around 400 children.
When asked "How have you been treated," they started to cry. Binford spoke with a 14 year old girl who was holding a tiny child. A seven year old girl was with the teenager. She wouldn't talk. The 14 year old didn't know either of the other children. Children arriving at the detention center are asked to care for other children.
Shameful? Of course. Sadly, the shame has been on display for many years, though the Trump administration has raised it to new heights.
Binford described the lengthy history of what led up to, and followed, the Flores order -- a Supreme Court decision regarding the detention and release of unaccompanied children at the border.
She started off her talk by asking people to read the testimony of some of those children, which had been printed on postcards, all with a different testimony, that had been left on City Club tables. I brought three cards home.
Here's what those children said:
"At La Perrera, I was separated from mother over our objections. I was very worried and frightened because I was put with strangers." -- Maybeline, 13, El Salvador
"I let my mom know that I was getting sick. But there was nothing she could do." -- Ducesa, 12, Romania
"On the second day we were at the Hielera, they took my mother away from me and had her speak to someone on the phone, but they were speaking Spanish to her and my mother does not speak Spanish. I tried to go to her to translate for her, but they would not let me help my mom. They kept me away from her so she could not communicate our claim for asylum." -- Karla, 15, Guatemala
I was surprised to hear Binford say that these words came from a 1985 lawsuit against the Reagan administration, which alleged that children were being used as bait to get their parents. That case went on for 12 years.
Thus injustices against migrant children and their parents have been occurring in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
However, what Binford and other advocates experienced at the Clint detention center this year must be at the Worst end of the child detention outrage scale. She said that the children there got little to eat, so were always hungry. Kool-aid was given at every meal. No milk. No fruit.
"We as a nation are in danger of losing our humanity," Binford said.
There was an outbreak of lice at the detention center. The staff told children to share the brushes and combs that had been given to them, which, of course, is a terrible way to handle a lice infestation. After a comb went missing, a staff member took away their bedding and made them sleep on a bare concrete floor.
Some of the children at Clint were being held in a windowless warehouse.
Binford visited the detention center in June 2019. A July story in the New York Times, "Hungry, Scared, and Sick: Inside the Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Tex." echoes what we heard at the City Club meeting today.
Here's how that story starts out:
CLINT, Tex. — Since the Border Patrol opened its station in Clint, Tex., in 2013, it was a fixture in this West Texas farm town. Separated from the surrounding cotton fields and cattle pastures by a razor-wire fence, the station stood on the town’s main road, near a feed store, the Good News Apostolic Church and La Indita Tortillería. Most people around Clint had little idea of what went on inside. Agents came and went in pickup trucks; buses pulled into the gates with the occasional load of children apprehended at the border, four miles south.
But inside the secretive site that is now on the front lines of the southwest border crisis, the men and women who work there were grappling with the stuff of nightmares.
Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children and adults who were being held in cramped cells, agents said. The stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing — people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly. One girl seemed likely enough to try to kill herself that the agents made her sleep on a cot in front of them, so they could watch her as they were processing new arrivals.
“It gets to a point where you start to become a robot,” said a veteran Border Patrol agent who has worked at the Clint station since it was built. He described following orders to take beds away from children to make more space in holding cells, part of a daily routine that he said had become “heartbreaking.”
Binford ended her talk by telling us what we could do to help. Here's the photo I took of her slide.
Of course, dumping Trump in 2020 is the best long-term strategy to help migrant children, since the Trump administration has been extremely anti-migrant, goings so far as to willfully separate children from their parents in a hope that this would discourage asylum seekers and others from entering the United States.