Many politicians and advocates have been touring the facilities where the Trump administration is detaining immigrants while they wait for their cases to be heard, or to be deported. This week, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren detailed horrific treatment of immigrant families that she witnessed during a recent tour of Port Isabel Detention Center, which is one of the largest facilities in Texas, and the McAllen Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center.
At McAllen, Warren wrote in a lengthy Facebook post on Tuesday that the way people were being detained felt inhumane to her. "The warehouse is enormous, with a solid concrete floor and a high roof. It is filled with cages. Cages for men. Cages for women. Cages for mamas with babies. Cages for girls. Cages for boys," she wrote. Warren added that the stench of body odor alone was disturbing, as was hearing people call out for showers.
She added that when she talked to the detainees, they had all been there for varying lengths of time, some up to two weeks. That is much longer than the maximum 72 hour detention period for people waiting to be deported, as reported by NBC News.
In a joint statement over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Human Health and Services specified that Port Isabel, where Warren visited, would serve as the main processing facility for immigrant facilities. Warren outlined her experience there meeting with mothers of separated children; she paints a very bleak picture.
Warren wrote on Facebook:
Let's be clear: Port Isabel isn't a reunification center. It's a detention center. A prison... There's no ambiguity on this point. I met with the head of the facility. He said several times that they had no space for children, no way to care for them, and no plans to bring any children to his locked-down complex.
A CBP spokesperson told Romper in an emailed statement, "CBP operates short term holding facilities, where individuals are generally held for the shortest time necessary to process, inspect, transfer, release, or return foreign." The statement continued, "CBP treats all individuals with dignity and respect, and ensures that our operations meet all relevant legal and policy requirements."
"CBP’s U.S. Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations ensure that personnel properly monitor the conditions in hold rooms, to include that temperature is kept within acceptable standards and record pertinent information into the appropriate systems of record on a regular basis," the statement continued.
Warren added that the administration's definition of "together" is faulty, according to what she witnessed. "Mothers and children may be considered 'together' if they're held in the same gigantic facility, even if they're locked in separate cages with no access to one another," Warren wrote in the same Facebook post, adding, "(In the world of CBP and ICE, that's how the 10-year-old girls locked in a giant cage are 'not separated' from their mothers who are in cages elsewhere in the facility.)"
Warren then toured the center, as The Hill reported, which she said had tall fences with razor wire on top. Each fence was backed up by another row of fences with more razor wire. "We didn't go to the men's area, but the women are held in a large bunk-bed facility with a concrete outdoor exercise area," she detailed in her Facebook post. She also noted that she met with nine mothers that had agreed to speak to her. "I don't believe that ICE cherry-picked these women for the meeting, because everything they told me was horrifying," Warren wrote.
Warren wrote that in every case among the women she spoke with, the mother said she was not told where her children were being taken. All of the mothers she talked to, except for one, had not spoken to their children since being separated. None of the moms she met knew the current whereabouts of her children. Some cases were more chilling than others, like that of the mother of a special needs kid. As Warren wrote of her meeting with this mother:
She talked about her child who doesn't have properly formed legs and feet and walks with great difficulty. One of the mothers spoke of another mother in the facility who is very worried because her separated child is deaf and does not speak at all.
Warren continued, "The women I met were traumatized, weeping, and begging for help. They don't understand what is happening to them — and they're begging to be reunited with their kids."
The senator also shared that she spoke to lawyers working the other detainees in the center. Most, as Warren wrote, have very strong, credible cases to apply for asylum, yet are still being separated from their children.
"But the entire process for being granted asylum depends on one phone call with an immigration official where they make the case for why they should be allowed to stay," Warren wrote in her post, adding:
One of the first questions a mother will be asked is, "Have you been separated from a child?" For some of the women, just asking that question makes them fall apart and weep.
Warren added in the same post that the immigration lawyers she spoke to are "worried that these women are in such a fragile and fractured state" that "they're in no shape to make the kind of detailed, credible case needed for themselves or their children." Warren continued, "They had no chance in our system because they've lost their children and desperately want them back." As Warren recounted, most of the women were told that their kids would return at the time of separation, but that hasn't happened yet for these women and so many more.
As previously mentioned, the Trump administration released a plan to eventually reunite an estimated 2,053 immigration children with their families over the weekend, though there is no timeline laid out, as reported by NPR. Going forward, the administration's plan is to detain immigrant parents and their children together at the Port Isabel center while they wait to be deported, according to CNN, although there are some caveats.
To be housed together, a parent must first request that their child be deported with them, as reported by CNN, which some parents are reluctant to do, given the conditions in their home country that urged them to seek asylum in the United States in the first place. The adult also must prove that they are a legal guardian and that they aren't a criminal, which some advocates fear is a sort of catch-22, given that the Trump administration's "Zero Tolerance" policy criminalizes all unauthorized border crossings, even asylum seekers, as reported by The Washington Post.
According to The New Yorker, advocates have also previously reported that the methods the government provides parents to find their children, such as hotlines and email addresses, aren't useful. And many children and kids are, as Warren also noted, too traumatized to give information to DHS, HHS, CBP, or ICE officials. Others may not speak English or Spanish, and only their local, indigenous dialect, or are too young to know any familial information at all. All of these concerns are backed up by what Warren reportedly saw during her visit this week.
Toward the end of her Facebook post, Warren added one chilling, gut-wrenching detail about her meeting with the nine mothers at Port Isabel Detention Center:
The mothers say that they can hear babies cry at night... This isn't about politics. This isn't about Democrats or Republicans. This is about human beings. Children held in cages today. Babies scattered all over this country. And mamas who, in the dark of night, hear them cry.
The Trump administration has pledged to reunite every family that was separated and keep kids with their parents going forward, as Vox reported, which is hopeful. But if Warren's account is any indication, more than just policy has to change for immigrant families. The Trump administration and its immigration agencies have to change how they think about the people they detain, too. Because the conditions Warren described aren't fit for human beings, whether they're kids or not.
Read Warren's post about her visit in its entirety on Facebook.