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What Laws Protect Detained Children From Mistreatment on the Border?

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A temporary facility set up to hold immigrants is pictured at a U.S. Border Patrol Station in Clint, Texas, on June 21st, 2019. Lawyers who toured the facility said they witnessed inhumane conditions there.

Last week, lawyers visiting detained children in a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, discovered filthy and overcrowded conditions. They told the New York Times that children were sleeping on concrete floors under bright lights; toddlers were wearing urine- and mucus-stained clothes; and some children had gone weeks with no toothbrushes, soap, or showers. 

That same week, comments one of the Trump administration’s lawyers made in front of a federal court went viral. Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation, argued that the sorts conditions children were experiencing in Customs and Border Protection custody in Clint were perfectly legal. Federal statute requires that detained children be kept in “safe and sanitary” conditions, but Fabian argued that “safe and sanitary” is a vague requirement, and does not specifically enumerate things like soap or toothpaste. (The government eventually transferred most of the children out of the facility.)

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