The Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” practice of separating immigrant children from their parents attracted international attention, and consequently increased attention on the system’s detention centers for children. Detention center operators have responded with assurances the children they house receive supportive care and comfortable accommodations.

It has been difficult to confirm what the operators say. For example, in June 2018 US Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon tried to visit a detention facility in Brownsville, Texas owned by Southwest Key. Staff refused entry to him. Southwest Key receives millions of dollars from the federal government, and yet were able to deny a senator’s request to enter.

Southwest Key claims to provide “round-the-clock services including: food, shelter, medical and mental health care, clothing, educational support, supervision, and reunification support.” They just did not want to give Senator Merkley access when, theoretically, he would have observed those positive services.

Advocates, reporters and others have toured various facilities and described conditions that seem to violate the legal standards set for detention centers. Children sleep inside metal fenced areas, with only thin mats and a foil blanket for bedding. Some facilities rely on portable toilets or have poorly maintained bathrooms. Limited access to bathing facilities in some centers means children cannot practice basic hygiene. Many complain of inadequate or poor food.

There are children in detention who arrived at the U.S. border without parents, known as unaccompanied minors. The Trump Administration began creating unaccompanied minors with a new policy to separate parents from their children forcibly at the border. Though the administration claims it ended the policy it still has hundreds of children to reunite.

As is usually the case, some centers provide much better care than others. When they can refuse to be accountable we cannot separate the good from the bad. When he tried to enter the Southwest Key center in Brownsville Senator Merkley had a simple question. “What was going on inside the building—and where were the children?” A question that has yet to be answered.

If you or a loved one are facing immigrant detention, please contact our experienced immigration lawyers at 510-488-1020 to see how we can help!