The Trump administration has been sending babies and preschool children forcibly separated from their parents at the United States-Mexico border to "tender age" shelters in South Texas. Lawyers who have visited the sites describe playrooms full of crying children.
The three detention centers—in Combes, Brownsville and Raymondville, Texas—have been repurposed to serve children, according to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials who spoke to The Associated Press.
"We have specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category," said HHS official Steven Wagner.
Medical professionals and lawyers who visited the sites said they were safe and clean. But they described the children detained there as "hysterical." The description is in line with audio that ProPublica published of Central American children who were separated from their families and being held in a dentention facility.
Hundreds of health organizations have signed a petition calling on the Trump administration to halt its family separation practice, with the American Academy of Pediatrics and mental health organizations pointing to the irreversible trauma it causes children.
Last month, the American Psychological Association (APA) denounced the separation practice as unacceptable.
"The administration’s policy of separating children from their families as they attempt to cross into the United States without documentation is not only needless and cruel, it threatens the mental and physical health of both the children and their caregivers," said APA president Jessica Henderson Daniel in a statement. "Psychological research shows that immigrants experience unique stressors related to the conditions that led them to flee their home countries in the first place."
In Houston, where the Trump administration plans to open a fourth detention center for children, the city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, denounced the proposed move on Tuesday (June 19).
"There are times when Americans, when Houstonians, when Texans have to say to those higher than ourselves ‘this is wrong,’" Turner told press.
Last week, officials with the Department of Homeland Security said that nearly 2,000 children had been separated from their parents or guardians between April 19 and May 31, in the wake of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy that criminally prosecutes parents who cross the border.
On Tuesday, John Sandweg, who served as director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the Obama administration, said that immigrant parents separated from their children are sometimes never ever to relocate their offspring.
Sandweg told NBC News that while adults are typically quickly deported to their home countries, children’s cases for asylum are considered a lower priority, and they can wait years before their cases are heard from a judge. "You could easily end up in a situation where the gap between a parent’s deportation and a child’s deportation is years."