Border officials have been jailing children as young as one year old for longer than they are legally allowed, and doing so in order to more quickly deport them and their families to Guatemala under inhumane Trump administration policy, BuzzFeed News reports.
Federal law blocks Customs and Border Protection from detaining kids for longer than 72 hours, after which they must either be transferred to Office of Refugee Resettlement custody, or be released. But attorneys tell BuzzFeed News that border officials have kept some children illegally jailed for at least 11 days now in an attempt to deport them as part of a so-called safe-third-country agreement that provides no safety at all. Attorneys say officials have also cited supposed spacing concerns in order to deny them access to these families.
David Dubrow, an attorney with Arent Fox LLP, said the family he’s been trying to meet with in person fled gang threats in Honduras, and that deporting them back to Central America will only return them to danger. A second family, from El Salvador, said they’d been detained since Jan. 2. The dad, who declined to give his name due to safety concerns, said he was told by officials that “Guatemala is safe because the United States had signed agreements with the president.” He was lied to—officials themselves have acknowledged this agreement is deadly. “I told them no, that there was a lot of crime in Guatemala and the gangs there are the same ones we’re fleeing from,” the dad continued to BuzzFeed News.
Border officials have continued to jail these children for longer than they are legally permitted even as one of these detained kids, the one-year-old Dubrow has been advocating for, “is extremely ill and has diarrhea,” BuzzFeed News reported. The only place this child should be going to is a hospital for immediate medical care. But this wouldn’t be the first time that border officials have cruelly kept sick kids detained—nor would it be the first time that border officials have illegally jailed kids for longer than the 72 hour limit.
The Homeland Security inspector general found last year that border officials kept nearly 200 children separated from their families under the “zero tolerance” policy detained for twice the legal limit, and some for as long as ten days or more. This crisis, the inspector general’s report stated, was of the administration’s own doing, because as it was stealing more and more kids, less space was becoming available.
Kids do not belong in detention, period, and in absence of that goal, this 72-hour limit is intended to be a safeguard. It’s a safeguard that officials have made clear is of no importance to them. This unlawful detention is inhumane—and so is any attempt to deport these families back to danger. “The children have a right to counsel,” Dubrow continued to BuzzFeed news. “It’s such a sinister plot. And what’s going to happen to them if they’re sent to Guatemala? This is nuts considering all the problems in Guatemala.”