Migrant mother says her son came back to her after 85 days ‘covered in dirt and lice’

A view of inside US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facility shows children at Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas, on 7 June 2018: CBP/Handout via REUTERS
A view of inside US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facility shows children at Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas, on 7 June 2018: CBP/Handout via REUTERS

A child was returned to his parents “full of dirt and lice” 85 days after being taken by US immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) at the border, according to his mother.

Olivia Caceras made the claim about her 14-month-old son in a lawsuit filed by 17 states and Washington DC against Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy at the US border that has resulted in more than 2,300 children being separated from parents or guardians upon entry.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had even made seeking asylum a crime and those who had crossed the border illegally for the first time were detained separately from their children and sent to facilities throughout Texas and beyond.

Ms Caceras’ testimony is one of many included in the court filing, totalling nearly 1,000 pages.

She said about her son’s return: “He continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not left me go”.

“When I took off his clothes, he was full of dirt and lice...It seems like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us,” she noted.

Neither the White House nor the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, tasked with the management of the children’s detention facilities, have responded to a request for comment on the allegations.

Before Mr Trump signed an executive order ending the family separation policy on 20 June, there appeared to be no real plan for reunification - parents and guardians were not given matching case numbers to their children, information on the location of children let alone phone calls with them were scant according to reports from advocates who had spoken to detainees, and some children were even sent as far away as Michigan and New York.

Thousands are still waiting to find their children.

However, the latest court order issued by US District Court Judge in the southern district of California is forcing the federal government to reunite children within 30 days, and 14 days for the children under the age of five.

The latter deadline comes up on 10 July.

The lawsuit containing Ms Caceres’ claims and hundreds of others was filed on 26 June by 18 Democratic attorneys general and, according to PBS, seeks a “court to order that this policy is unconstitutional and it must stop permanently. They also want courts to order those seeking asylum be allowed to process and go through the border without being detained”.

The first-hand accounts detailed in the court filing include those undocumented migrants were kept in freezing cold cells, being forced to share one toilet with little privacy among more than 50 adults, racial slurs by guards, and psychological abuse of the separated children.

One particularly chilling audio clip was released amid the public furore and protests to the policy, during which a border patrol officer can be heard ridiculing children sobbing to see their parents.