Read, Debate: Engage.

Change.org petition calls for emergency medical care for children seeking asylum in the U.S.

September 30th, 2019
by:Yair Oded
located in:USA
tags:asylum seekers, human-rights, immigration, medical care, refugee, USA

The dire conditions under which migrant children are held at Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facilities have drawn increasing criticism by concerned citizens, lawmakers, and human rights activists.

As the surge of asylum seekers crossing the southern U.S. border grows, CBP, as well as other relevant government authorities, find themselves scrambling to properly accommodate and process the migrants and their children (some of which arrive unaccompanied). In the meantime, thousands of children are imprisoned in detention centers under inhuman conditions, and since last year at least seven children died under CBP custody or shortly upon their release.

A Change.org petition launched by Maya Uppaluru, an associate in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office with the Digital Health Practice and Health Care Group, calls on government officials and state leaders to immediately funnel funds and medical care services to children seeking asylum in the United States.

“No child, and especially no child on American soil, should ever be put in a position in which they are scared, hungry, sick, cold, feel unsafe, or experience life-altering trauma,” states the petition’s author. 

The outrage surrounding the CBP holding facilities has grown louder, angrier, and more widespread as reports about the horrid conditions under which children are held began to circulate in mainstream media. The holding facilities, commonly referred to as Hieleras (Spanish for ‘ice boxes’) due to their frigid temperatures, have become a breeding ground for numerous diseases. 

A report compiled by Human Rights Watch titled “In the Freezer”, indicated that children at Hieleras sleep on the floor under thin Mylar blankets or foil wrappers. The report further states that nearly all women and children at the facilities were not permitted to shower, often for days, and did not receive hand soap, toothpaste, or toothbrushes. Others were denied access to menstrual hygiene products and diapers.

A New York Times investigation into the holding facilities further revealed that, “Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met.” 

A combination of the ice-cold temperatures, severe crowdedness, non-nutritious and often under-cooked food, and an acute lack of hygiene, have caused the outbreak of diseases among children at Hieleras.  

“Children are not like adults,” Dr. Julie Linton, co-chair of the immigrant health special interest group at the American Academy of Pediatrics, told NBC News, “They get sick more quickly and each hour of delay can be associated with serious complications, especially in cases of infectious diseases. Delays can lead to death.” 

Migrant children are particularly susceptible to contract diseases seeing as they arrive at the U.S. border after an arduous journey through Central America, and often come from drought-stricken areas - which means their immune systems are potentially already weak and their overall physical state is volatile. 

While U.S. law mandates the CBP to transfer underage migrants to the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (operating under the Department of Health and Human Services) within 72 hours from their arrival, their detention at CBP facilities lasts for weeks in many cases, as the authorities fail to keep up with the rising volume of arrivals and allocate resources appropriately. Under CBP supervision, children are being denied proper medical care, which in numerous cases resulted in the death of infants, toddlers, young children, and teenagers. 

The Change.org petition, addressed to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar, Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, lists a series of demands from the aforementioned officials, urging them to collaborate in order to grant appropriate medical care to children seeking asylum in the U.S. 

The petition’s author recognises that congress recently passed a bill calling for additional humanitarian aid for children asylum seekers, but warns that the implementation of this law could take months, and argues that in the meantime the government must take concrete action to ensure the safety of these children. 

Among the petition’s demands is a call on Secretary Azar to deploy the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and on Gov. Abbott to send out the Texas Medical Reserve Corps of volunteers in order to provide urgently needed medical services and care to sick migrant children and thus curb the humanitarian crisis at the border, until legislation appropriates the necessary funds for this purpose. 

The petition also calls on Acting Secretary McAleenan to ensure that his agency provide humane and safe living conditions for detained asylum seekers, including, among other things, access to medical care and basic hygiene, licensed and trained caregivers who have completed appropriate background checks, access to legal and translation services, clean water for drinking and washing, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, beds with mattresses, pillows, and blankets, toilets, menstrual pads and tampons, clothing, diapers and wipes, and bottles with formula.

The petition further calls on McAleenan to ensure that children are reunited with their parents or appropriate guardian as quickly as possible, out of concern for the child’s best interest and to reduce the time-frame during which children will be placed under the federal government’s care. This demand is particularly relevant since despite the fact that the administration’s zero-tolerance policy has been reversed, children are still being separated from their parents at the border at an estimated rate of five per day

The petition calls for the bare minimum necessary to ensure that migrants seeking asylum in the United States are treated humanely and respectfully, as is guaranteed to them by both U.S. and international humanitarian laws. 

The petition has thus far garnered close to 160,000 signatures out of its goal of 200,000. 

Please sign the petition and support the movement calling for an end to the tragic neglect of children seeking asylum at the southern border.

Article written by:
yair oded profile
Yair Oded
Author, Project Editor, Contributing Editor
Thousands of children are imprisoned in detention centers under inhuman conditions.
“No child, and especially no child on American soil, should ever be put in a position in which they are scared, hungry, sick, cold, feel unsafe, or experience life-altering trauma.”
The outrage surrounding the CBP holding facilities has grown louder, angrier, and more widespread as reports about the horrid conditions under which children are held began to circulate in mainstream media.
migrantchildren Support by Maya Uppaluru calls on government officials to immediately funnel funds and medical care services to children seeking asylum in the United States.
map tooltip