Trump official defends squalid conditions in children’s detention facility

He still insists the claims are "unsubstantiated."

(Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Recent news reports detailed deplorable conditions for immigrant children being held at a detention center in Clint, Texas, including lack of adequate sanitation and an appalling disregard for the youngsters’ nutritional needs.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Sunday defended the quality of care given to the children there as sufficient.

“[T]here’s adequate food and water,” he told ABC’s This Week  program.

McAleenan said he felt confident brushing aside a new report from the New York Times and El Paso Times detailing the unconscionable treatment of children at the facility “because I know what our standards are, and I know they’re being followed, because we have tremendous levels of oversight.”


He insisted that “the facility is cleaned every day,” and that horror stories of an overpowering stench and outbreaks of contagious illnesses, among other concerns, are “unsubstantiated.”

It is McAleenan’s claims however that remain unsubstantiated. The latest report on the facility details conditions that in no way meet any standard of living:

Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children who were being held in cramped cells, agents said. The stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing — people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly. One girl seemed likely enough to try to kill herself that the agents made her sleep on a cot in front of them, so they could watch her as they were processing new arrivals.

These, according to McAleenan, are among the claims that are “unsubstantiated.”

The reporting also speaks to the “standards” in place.

An inspector by the name of Henry Moak made an unannounced visit to the station in April, where he found an over-crowded facility that had evidence of a lice infestation and he heard from children about going hungry and being forced to sleep on the floor. One 14-year-old girl had to spend nine days in a nearby hospital, and when she returned, she’d lost her bed and had to sleep on the floor. Two other girls, 11 and 7, had not brushed their teeth and had missed their two opportunities to shower because they’d been sleeping both times.


As for nutrition, the facility has no kitchen, so all the children have to eat is ramen, granola bars, instant oatmeal, and frozen burritos. Many older children are charged with caring for the infants and toddlers housed there, some as young as five months.

But Moak still concluded that the facility was in compliance with standards. The Trump administration openly argued in court that it believes denying the children soap, toothbrushes, and adequate sleeping facilities is still in compliance with “safe and sanitary” conditions. It’s unclear how any such conditions could even be described with the term “standards.”

The details outlined in the newest report were derived from interviews with many current agents, who spoke anonymously because they were not permitted to discuss the conditions. Those agents have raised the alarm themselves internally, including that the children had insufficient access to beds, showers, and food.

If the agents working in the facility have been reporting these conditions, but McAleenan still believes them to be “unsubstantiated,” it casts serious doubt on the effectiveness of the “oversight” upon which he is relying.