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5 powerful ways we can help detained immigrant children today

We teach our children to wash their hands to prevent the spread of germs, brush their teeth to prevent cavities, and we take care to make sure they get they get the sleep that is critical for healthy child development. But we also know that not every child in America can wash their hands, brush their teeth, or sleep without bright lights shining down on them. The children inside Border Patrol detention facilities don't have access to things like hygiene supplies or beds, and it is keeping many American mothers up at night.

As the Washington Post reports, lawyers for the U.S. government argue that it should not be required to provide detained migrant children with toothbrushes, soap, showers or conditions conducive to sleep. This is concerning many Americans, especially after a report from The Associated Press painted a bleak picture of unsanitary conditions for children detained at Border Patrol facilities, some with no parent to care for them.


For many, this isn't about politics, but about compassion. Last week Judge A. Wallace Tashima stated that it is "within everybody's common understanding that if you don't have a toothbrush, you don't have soap, you don't have a blanket, those are not safe and sanitary [conditions]," and many parents around the country agree.

The children who are reportedly getting sick from unsanitary conditions need voices like Tashima's, but you don't have to be a judge to speak for them.

[Update June 25: Following the first reports the children were removed from the facility but are now being returned to the shelter in Clint, Texas. We have more updates on this evolving story here.]

Here are 5 powerful ways to help these kids:

1. Call your representatives

You can follow Tashima's lead and let your reps know that your definition of "safe and sanitary" includes access to hygiene items and sleep.

If you don't know what number to call, you can either call the US Capitol switchboard or punch your info into callmycongress.com and get the direct phone numbers.

Just tell the congressional staffer who picks up the phone that you want to see soap, toothbrushes and beds for detained children right now.

Consider saving those direct numbers in your phone so that you can follow up with more calls in the future.

2. Use digital tools and data

You're probably reading this on your phone right now, so obviously calling your rep isn't the only way to get their attention. We all have powerful computers in our palms these days, and you can slide into your reps DMs or amplify this issue by tagging them in a tweet or Facebook post.

The internet hasn't just given us the ability to connect with our politicians, it has given us unprecedented access to information and science, and in this case, the science is pretty simple: Handwashing is "a win for everyone", according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Study after study after study backs the CDC up. Handwashing can keep kids alive by preventing everything from diarrhea to the flu.

The scientists at the CDC say that "washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them.

So it is vital for these kids to have access to hygiene and sanitation as influenza is common in the detention centers.

The same challenges that make it hard to control communicable disease transmission and outbreaks in jails and prisons—high turnover rates of staff and the detained, a population vulnerable to illness—put these children at risk, and while the New York Times reports some guards at the detention facilities have taken to wearing paper masks to keep them from catching what the kids have, it is totally possible that someone who works around these detained kids will get sick, and that could put a population outside of the facility at risk.

Giving detained people access to sanitation should be a public health priority.

3. Keep talking about this + encourage others to make their own calls

This conversation comes nearly a year after ProPublica released audio reportedly recorded inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility and mothers across America cried listening to the sounds of those children crying.

Now, the conversation has shifted to sanitation, but it's important to remember that soap, toothbrushes and showers aren't all these kids are missing—they're missing their families, too. Children continue to be separated from their families, something that will impact them for the rest of their lives, whether those lives happen in America or elsewhere.

There are a lot of debates going on about how to solve this crisis, but one thing that many groups, from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree on is that these facilities were not designed to house kids.

Something's got to change, and the more people that are calling their reps, the better.

Tell your friends that you're talking to your representatives about this and ask them to call, too. A lot of people have never called a politician's office before, so let those in your circle know about how the ACLU will route their call and pass on the short script for those who get flustered on the phone.

4. Donate to organizations that will help migrant families


There are many organizations working to get and keep children out of detention centers so that they will not have to live in the kinds of conditions being reported. All of the following organizations are trying to help children caught up in this crisis.

American Immigration Council: This organization gets on the ground at detention centers helping families, documenting conditions of detention and bringing lawsuits to challenge them.

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project: Provides "emergency legal aid to refugee families".

Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services: Provides "free and low cost immigration services".

Families Belong Together: Is a group effort that "includes nearly 250 organizations representing Americans from all backgrounds who have joined together to fight family separation and promote dignity, unity, and compassion for all children and families

Kids In Need of Defense: According to its website, KIND "partners with major law firms, corporations, law schools, and bar associations to create a nationwide pro bono network to represent unaccompanied children through their immigration proceedings."

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center: States it is "dedicated to serving the legal needs of low-income immigrants, including refugees, victims of crime, and families seeking reunification."

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service: The faith-based organization "works with refugees, children, and migrants to ensure they are protected and welcomed into local communities throughout the United States."

South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR): A joint project of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Texas and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, ProBAR "is a national effort to provide pro bono legal services to asylum seekers detained in South Texas by the United States government. "

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES): A non-profit that aims to reunite families and help kids feel safe, this Texas-based nonprofit aims to "directly fund the bond necessary to get parents out of detention and reunited with their children while awaiting court proceedings" and "ensure legal representation for EVERY child in Texas' immigration courts."

The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights: Provides independent Child Advocates to stand up for unaccompanied immigrant children and "champion the child's best interests".

Update, June 25:

Some Motherly readers have asked us for direction in donating physical items.

Reports out of Texas indicate that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol cannot accept donations of soap, diapers or other supplies for infants and children. If you have items like these that you would like to donate to children and families who need them, contact your local shelters, food banks or diaper banks.

5. Teach our children kindness and compassion 

We can't change what has already happened, but we can teach our children to change the future.

By instilling empathy, compassion and kindness in the next generation we are planting the seeds for a kinder world, and those seeds desperately need to be planted.

Caring for these children is not a partisan issue, it's an issue many parents all over the political spectrum are grappling with. Many have differing opinions about how to resolve the issues at the root of this problem, but many parents can agree that if their child was in this position they would want them to be shown some kindness.

As much as many parents would love to scoop these children up, draw them a bubble bath and find them a safe, warm place to sleep, we can't. But we can do those things for our own children, and in doing so we will teach them about love and kindness.

And hopefully, future generations will not be having the conversations.

Updates, June 25 

On Tuesday the Associated Press reported that 100 of the 300 children who were removed from the facility following the reports of unsanitary conditions are now being moved back to it and that an official says other children are now staying in facilities operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Meanwhile, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, announced he is resigning, effective July 5.

[Last updated June 25, 2019]

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