Migrant kids described being detained: 'They told us to behave, or we’d be there forever'
“I felt like a prisoner,” said nine-year-old Diogo. “They told us to behave, or we’d be there forever,” said eight-year-old Sandy. “I don’t want to remember,” ten-year-old Diego plainly stated. For weeks, officials barred elected leaders and media from speaking to detained migrant children separated from parents at the border. But now that some of these children have been reunited with parents and are free, they are speaking out to The Washington Post about their traumatizing experience.
For some of the group, it was the first time they’d said anything about the weeks, sometimes months they spent in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody. ”Parents sometimes learned the details of their kids’ time in custody by listening to them talk to The Post.”
The rules were strict. At Southwest Key Combes in Texas, where Sandy was held, there was to be “no touching”—even if it’s your sibling—“no talking to boys, lights on at 6:30 AM, lights out at 8 PM.” Twelve-year-old Leticia, according to the New York Times, was being detained in Texas and “had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug. But ‘they told me I couldn’t touch him,’ she recalled.”
At Heartland Alliance’s Casa Guadalupe in Illinois, some children, aside from attending class, ”were assigned cleaning duties,” and “in addition to washing dishes and helping serve food, they had to scrub the bathroom at least twice a week.” But Diego complained that “they didn’t even give us gloves to clean the toilet.” Nine-year-old Leidy said “they would look over everything in your room, and if it wasn’t perfectly clean, they’d take away your blankets.”
“Some of the shelter employees were nice,” Sandy recalled, but other described frightening experiences. Both Diego and Diogo said that during classes, “a troubled” 5-year-old boy was “repeatedly injected with something that made him fall asleep at his desk. The boy’s father had been deported, Diego said, and he often melted down during the daily classes.” Diego said that he “was very scared. I thought they were going to inject me, too.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been one of the leaders in the family reunification fight, has asked Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered the administration to reunite families, to also order the administration to establish a mental health counseling fund for kids who continue to be traumatized.
Sandy spent two months in Texas before she was finally returned to her mom. But when the family threw a welcoming party to celebrate the reunification, Sandy shoved “a toddler who had tried to give her a hug and a kiss … she was screaming and crying and telling the boy to stay away.” She explained that “they always kept the boys and the girls separate. And they punished us if we went near each other.”