As thousands of migrant children wait in detention centers after being separated from their families, many have been left to fend for themselves and looking out for those who can’t.
Specifically, at a U.S. Border Patrol facility in Texas, a 16-year-old girl had to look after a 4-year-old girl she had previously not met, for three days, and was the only one in their cage who knew how to change the toddler’s diaper.
“She had to teach other kids in the cell to change her diaper,” Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told the Associated Press on Friday after speaking with the 16-year-old girl at the facility.
“She was so traumatized that she wasn’t talking. She was just curled up in a little ball,” Brane said of the teenager, who has since been reunited with her aunt.
“The government is literally taking kids away from their parents and leaving them in inappropriate conditions,” Brane said. “If a parent left a child in a cage with no supervision with other 5-year-olds, they’d be held accountable.”
In most facilities and shelters, staff members are not allowed to touch the children, according to Dr. Colleen Kraft, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who recently visited a separate shelter in Texas.
Kraft told the AP that staff members try to console crying children with books and toys but as a rule, they are not allowed to pick up, hold them or attempt to calm them with hugs.
When a parent or family member has been charged with illegal entry, they are taken into U.S. Marshal custody and returned to ICE custody, while their children are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
Previously, most parents had been allowed to remain with their children in family shelters while awaiting asylum cases or deportation proceedings, but as of late, children are removed from their families and sent to separate facilities overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
More than 700 children were taken from adults claiming to be their parents between October and April with “more than 100 children under the age of 4,” according to The New York Times.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reversing his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they illegally cross at the border. This decision came weeks after he said only Democrats could fix the migrant-child crisis.
“We are keeping families together,” Trump said in the Oval Office, where he was joined by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence. “This will solve that problem. At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people who enter our country illegally.”
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