The last couple of months have been very difficult for almost everyone in the country. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable members of society – detained children.
A spike in migrant children crossing the U.S. border is threatening to swamp the systems set up to care for them. This is due to the conditions in immigration detention centers, the EOIR’s (Executive Office for Immigration Review) negligence to shut all immigration courts, and the government’s decision to close the Southern border for refugee or asylum seekers.
Challenges of Covid-19
Almost all the infants and children are asylum seekers with legal orders in place to protect them from deportation. 85% of the detained children leave their home countries due to rampant poverty, criminal gang pressure, wars against drug cartels, domestic abuse, or local corruption.
Most children are detained near or at the U.S southern border and hoping to reunite with their relatives in the U.S. Irrespective of whether children are given to sponsors, their immigration cases continue.
Children often don’t receive any legal help and face difficulties to prove their cases with denial rates for asylum seekers rising steadily to 65% in 2018.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the challenges of the U.S. immigration system. Even before the pandemic, detained infants and children didn’t get basic care and were held in an environment of fear. Lack of access to medical care, overcrowding, unskilled medical staff has become even more deadly in the pandemic situation.
Physical and Mental Health of Detained Children
The immigrant infants and children are exposed to terribly poor health conditions and services in ICE detention centers. Detained children and adults suffer detrimental physical and mental health issues. They experience increased levels of gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, neurologic, and respiratory symptoms.
Mental health accounts for depression, anxiety, difficulty with relationships, posttraumatic stress disorder, and self-harming behavior. Moreover, immigration detention centers deny the family the care of their children’s needs.
The complexity of this challenge is doubled by parents facing mental health problems. In extreme cases, detainment has caused immigrant infants and children death and mortality.
Poor health conditions and inadequate medical access has been more exacerbated by Covid-19. As Covid-19 is highly contagious, crowded detention centers are at greater risk when it comes to spreading and contracting the virus.
Lack of Medical Facilities at ICE
The demand for medical needs is more than the supply because of the Covid-19 outbreak. However, this gap is more apparent in detention centers where exposure to the virus can cause life-threatening consequences for children.
ICE states that, as of July 2020, 22,340 people were detained, with 869 positive COVID-19 cases and 1686 having been tested. However, ICE lacks medical facilities and staff to quarantine people and monitor for symptoms, isolated contaminated people, or deliver proper medical arrangements.
Reports state that ICE lacks PPE and medical stock like masks, cleaning supplies, gloves, etc. Detained children are not being treated even when they are sick and have symptoms of Covid-19. Detainees have stated that they have limited access to hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants.
The Trump Administration’s Lack of Decency and Empathy
Trump’s hard-line policies are aimed at discouraging asylum seekers, including expanding detention, increasing family separations, and compelling other countries to improve their detention centers.
The callous indifference of the Trump administration and supporters to immigrants’ rights and their humanity has already resulted in deplorable conditions where children are detained. Critics believe that this problem has grown to unprecedented levels since Donald Trump took office.