While cradling her baby, who had just finished breastfeeding, Sara reached her other hand out to her older son. With her right thumb and forefinger, she gently pressed on the bridge of her 2-year-old son’s nose to hold his oxygen mask in place. A foggy mist of breathing medication enveloped his nose and swirled in front of his mouth. The 2-year-old, who has asthma, would soon be diagnosed with pneumonia. His baby brother, in his mother’s arms, was suffering from bronchiolitis. Just one week earlier, Sara said, having traveled hundreds of miles from Honduras, before they entered immigration detention, the boys were healthy.
After crossing the Rio Grande on a small boat in late June, 22-year-old Sara, her two boys, and her 3-year-old daughter turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents to seek asylum in the United States. Their hope was to soon travel to South Carolina, where Sara’s husband was waiting for them. Once on U.S. soil, migrants like Sara and her family are usually taken to Border Patrol detention facilities where they are processed, fingerprinted, and examined by a medical provider.
Although Border Patrol policy says migrants are not supposed to be held there for longer than 72 hours, Sara said her family was there for about six days, and some people were detained there for weeks, according to the government’s own internal review. Mark Weber, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that as of Tuesday, July 9, Border Patrol wasn’t holding any children longer than 72 hours. Sara, whose last name is being withheld so that she could speak freely on her experiences in detention, said doctors at the facility handed out fever and flu medication, but they didn’t offer anything to remedy the gravelly cough her boys had developed—an early symptom of the infections growing in their lungs. “It was like prison,” she said in Spanish, sitting on a blue couch in an exam room at Valley Baptist Medical Center’s emergency room in Brownsville, Texas.