Over the past week, reports have emerged of hundreds of migrant children being held in unbelievably harsh conditions at government facilities on and near the southern U.S. border. The stories have shocked many Americans, and led to deep division on the part of House Democrats over how to fund an emergency humanitarian-aid package.
To understand more about this crisis, I called Elora Mukherjee, a professor at Columbia Law School and the director of the school’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. She has been working on issues related to the Flores settlement, an agreement that outlines how the U.S. government must care for unaccompanied migrant children, since 2007. Mukherjee has represented and interviewed multiple children and families. She was at the Clint holding facility in Texas last week, along with a group of lawyers and doctors, to interview the children held there. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Lizzie O’Leary: Tell me a little about your involvement and what you saw.
Elora Mukherjee: I have been representing and interviewing immigrant children and their families in detention. Most recently, I was in Brownsville, Texas, interviewing children detained at Casa Padre last July. In March of this year, I was in Homestead, Florida, interviewing children detained there. Both of those facilities were very controversial and have received a lot of coverage. Last week I was in Clint, and the conditions we found were appalling. In 12 years representing immigrant children in detention, I have never seen such degradation and inhumanity. Children were dirty, they were scared, and they were hungry.