Immigrant Rights Groups Urge DHS to Release Infants Detained in Texas

By Shani Saxon Mar 01, 2019

Immigrant advocacy groups say the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is holding at least nine babies under the age of one in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, which is putting the small children in grave danger, The Guardian reports.

The American Immigration Lawyers AssociationAmerican Immigration Council and Catholic Legal Immigration Network filed a complaint with DHS asking for the immediate release of the infants and their mothers, who say "their children were sick, had lost weight and were crying more than usual."

It’s uncommon for ICE to detain infants; The Guardian spoke to the advocacy group’s coordinator, Katy Murdza, who said they first noticed babies being held last week. "We’ve almost never seen this before," she said. "Most of these babies have been sick and not getting better," Murdza continued. "A lot of moms are saying that they are crying much more than they normally do. They are crying all night and keeping people up in shared dorm rooms. There are a lot of kids who are really congested, sometimes having trouble breathing, coughing a lot."

Murzda told the news outlet that all of the mothers are Honduran and they’re worried that their babies aren’t being given clean water to mix with their formula. They also worry about the sudden change in formula their babies are given, even though doctors warn a sudden change in formula can negatively impact a child’s digestive system.

The complaint points to one infant that has been held at the facility for more than 20 days, despite the fact that under the Flores Agreement, “it is illegal to hold a child in immigration detention for more than 20 days." According to The Guardian, the advocacy groups have "grave" concerns about the safety of the babies at the detention facility, especially when it comes to their ability to receive proper medical attention. 

ICE responded to those concerns in a statement to The Guardian, saying: "ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care."

The group’s complaint also asked DHS to review all documents related to health issues faced by infants in detention. They requested special attention to available services and the medical decisions being made for the babies. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) included a statement in the complaint that reads: "PHR is alarmed about the inherent health risks for infants in detention, as infants have specific health needs which detention centers are ill-equipped to meet."