National Consumers League

Calling an end to the health and humanitarian crisis at the border

Nissa ShaffiFlorence Kelley, first general secretary of the National Consumers League (NCL), was a pioneer in progressive social reform during a time in our nation’s history that was defined by mass immigration and egregious health violations. 120 years later, we bear witness once again to the unconscionable transgressions occurring in migrant detention centers across the border with regards to immigrant rights and access to health care. 

At this very moment, people who are exercising their legal right to seek asylum, according to international and U.S. law, are being systemically dehumanized. The atrocities occurring at our border completely tarnish the social protections that NCL has historically fought to solidify.

On July 10, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing to examine the humanitarian crisis at the border. The investigation followed the release of a July 2 report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) detailing the dangerous and unsanitary conditions migrant detainees are experiencing at Custom and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities.

Images of children sprawled across cold concrete floors in overcrowded holding cells, wrapped in nothing but flimsy mylar blankets, prompted members of Congress, immigration lawyers, and physicians to visit various migrant detention centers throughout Texas to witness the matter firsthand.

Visitors noted a stench that could be detected immediately upon entry into the facilities, which was attributed to detainees being sardined into holding cells, in conditions that have been classified as inhumane and in violation of international law. A majority of detainees have been denied access to basic toiletries like soap and toothbrushes to help them maintain their hygiene. Additionally, individuals have not been able to shower in weeks, are sleep deprived, and are housed in frigid temperatures in rooms that have been given the apt moniker of the “ICE Box.” Many migrants have claimed that they were wearing the same soiled clothes that they wore during their long passage into the country.

These facilities were not designed to house migrants for prolonged detainment. Regulations prohibit the detention of detainees for longer than 72 hours, yet OIG reported that migrants had been held indefinitely, some even as long as several weeks. The unsanitary conditions prevalent in the detention centers have resulted in outbreaks of the flu, lice, shingles, scabies, and chickenpox. The processing centers in the facilities are housed beyond infrastructural capacity, leading border officials to take desperate measures to hold detainees in cages and under overpasses. These dangerous conditions will inevitably advance the spread of disease, endangering the lives of detainees as well as the general public who will come into contact with CBP and ICE agents.

These facilities are privatized, for-profit migrant detention centers that function outside the purview of federal oversight and accountability. Shareholder interests call for incentivized cuts to medical staffing, which as a result, has led to cruel and negligent practices that have encouraged the spread of disease, the proliferation of trauma, and the violation of human rights.

NCL calls on Congress to address the harrowing health and human rights violations taking place at our borders. NCL strongly advocates for a principled, comprehensive immigration reform that treats all immigrants with respect and dignity, no matter their legal status in the United States. NCL’s immigration policy advocates to:

  • keep families together;
  • ensure a humane pathway to citizenship and builds upon the success of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to incorporate young immigrants into mainstream society; and
  • ensure effective enforcement that protects our borders, fosters commerce, and promotes the safe and legitimate movement of people and goods at our ports of entry.

To learn about NCL’s immigration policy, click here.

The National Consumers League calls on lawmakers to work together to enact humane immigration policy reform that genuinely encompasses the promise of American values. Congress must act swiftly and in the best interest of migrants detained to collectively bring an end to this humanitarian crisis.