EDITORIAL: Act on shameful detention centers

York Dispatch Editorial Board
FILE - In this June 26, 2018, file photo, children stand and hold protest signs during a rally in front of Federal Courthouse in Los Angeles. A panel of appeals court judges in California will hear arguments in the long-running battle between advocates for immigrant children and the U.S. government over conditions in detention and holding facilities near the southwest border. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

The fact that Congress has been unable to meaningfully address the issue of illegal immigration for the past decade is unforgivable.

But the current administration’s treatment of those seeking asylum in the United States — including very young children — is shameful. It may even be criminal.

For the sake of the thousands of children being housed today in unsafe, unsanitary, unfit facilities, all sides must hit the pause button on political debate and turn their immediate attention to the care and treatment of this imperiled young population.

That means stopping the clock on President Donald Trump’s arbitrary and characteristically unhelpful two-week deadline for legislative action.

In fact, with his threat to deport “millions” coming on top of his incessant calls for a border wall, his vilification of asylum-seekers, and his horrendous policies of separating families and detaining immigrants in often-deplorable conditions, Trump has done much to make matters far worse.

His efforts to politicize the issue are unending and transparent, and his policies are ill-conceived, uncaring, dangerous and deadly.

Six migrant children, for example, are known to have died in U.S. custody since last fall — this after nearly a decade without any such fatalities.

And many more young immigrants are suffering from lack of care, food, and medical treatment in detention centers around the country.

Lawyers who have met recently with detained children and young mothers in facilities such as the Centralized Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, report a lack of even basic personal-care items including diapers, soap, clean clothes and toothbrushes.

“Basic hygiene just doesn't exist there,” attorney Toby Gialluca told The Texas Tribune last week. “It’s a health crisis ... a manufactured health crisis.”

Similar woe was being manufactured at a facility in Clint, Texas, where lawyers this month found filthy children sleeping on concrete floors, suffering from outbreaks of lice and the flu, and attempting to take care of one another absent adult attention. These are children under 10.

“Almost every child that we interviewed had a parent or relative in the United States,” an attorney who toured the Clint center told The New Yorker. “Many of them had parents in the United States and were coming here to be with their parents. Some of the children that we interviewed had been separated from their parents. Most of them were separated from other adult relatives. Almost all the children came across with an adult family member and were separated from them by the Border Patrol.”

Administration officials over the weekend denied conditions were as bad as portrayed. But, tellingly, some 300 children were hustled out of the Clint facility by Monday.

The nation’s immigration issue is an intractable problem. It can be solved, but not in two weeks’ time or by something as simplistic as a wall.

Serious, good-faith negotiations will be needed — the type of political compromise, unfortunately, that Washington said goodbye to long ago.

In the meantime, all sides ought to at least be able to agree that mistreating young children — separating them from their parents and leaving them without simple necessities like diapers and toothbrushes, let alone mattresses and medical care — is nothing short of disgraceful.

Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday predictably tried to pin the blame on congressional Democrats’ failure to provide necessary funding.

Come on. This is a White House that thinks nothing of stiffing taxpayers for four-figure bar tabs and more than $100 million for golfing excursions at Trump properties — not to mention ordering questionable financial maneuvers to reallocate Defense funds toward the president’s ever-precious wall.

Congress should pass the necessary allocations, yes, but the problems could be more quickly and comprehensively mitigated by reversing hateful, hurtful policies that separate families, disregard basic healthcare needs, and treat young children like stray dogs at a pound.

Rescind those detainment policies. Immediately.