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By Elizabeth Byrum

As we celebrated Independence Day last week, many migrant children and families seeking asylum remain locked in detention centers run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These migrants are fleeing violence and poverty in their home counties, hoping to make a new life in the United States because of our nation’s founding values of liberty and justice for all.

Recent statements to the Associated Press from attorneys who visited the detention centers describe horrific conditions that severely threaten children’s health, safety, and wellbeing. These facilities are inappropriate and unsafe for any person, but especially so for vulnerable infants, children, and youth, many of whom are younger than 10 years old. At least seven children have died while in US custody at the US-Mexico border.

We at NC Child are deeply concerned about the abuse and neglect that hundreds of infants, children, and youth are facing while in government-run border detention facilities. We value all children, no matter where they come from. Every child should have the chance to grow up in safe, stable, and nurturing homes and communities.

Attorneys who have visited the detention centers found severely overcrowded conditions, with children sleeping in cages on concrete floors, wearing soiled clothing, and suffering from malnourishment, illness, and lice. Other reports have described young children being forced to care for even younger children. If any one of these conditions were present in a home in North Carolina, it would qualify as child abuse and neglect. Any child exposed to these traumatic conditions would be removed from the home by Child Protective Services.

All children deserve to be properly cared for by concerned and supportive adults. Children are dependent on responsible adults to provide for their basic physical needs. They also need emotional support and reassurance from their caregivers during times of stress. Yet, migrant children in detention are being denied food, water, medication, and access to hygiene products, which is in direct violation of the 1997 Flores settlement agreement. At the same time, children are still being separated from their families, a year after the end of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

Denying children and families necessary care is cruel, and it will have lasting negative consequences. Childhood trauma such as abuse and neglect has been shown to have a significant impact on children’s physical and psychological development. At NC Child, we are very concerned about the negative health and psychological impacts that can result from the repeated exposure to trauma.

We must stop depriving children of their most basic rights. Allowing CBP border agents to continue to mistreat children and families is inhumane, and will harm generations to come. We are calling on Congress and the Trump administration to end child detention and family separation on the southern border. You can join the call: This Friday July 12, Lights for Liberty will hold vigils across the country to protest the inhumane conditions faced by migrants on the US border.

Elizabeth Byrum is NC Child’s MSW/MPH intern (UNC-Chapel Hill 2019)

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