Press Release

NNU nurses condemn abusive and unhealthful conditions for migrant children in federal custody

US-Mexico border
US-Mexico border. CC photo credit: Natt Muangsiri

Call for immediate end to their detention, swift return to their families

Following additional recent reports of unsanitary, dangerous, and brutal conditions threatening the health and well-being of children and asylum seekers at U.S. federal border detention facilities, the registered nurses of National Nurses United (NNU) again condemn this inhumane and illegal treatment of Central American migrants, calling for an immediate end to holding them in federal custody and for swift reunification with family members. 

“As nurses we are appalled and deeply disturbed by the latest media reports,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, and executive director of NNU. “It is unconscionable and flat-out unacceptable that this administration is imprisoning thousands of children without even meeting their basic needs of adequate shelter and temperature, food, water, clothing, bedding, hygiene, medical care, and caring, adult supervision. This is abuse and a violation of their human rights. This must end now.” These conditions, and holding children longer than 72 hours in detention, appear to violate the terms of the 1993 federal Flores class action lawsuit settlement.  

This week’s reports by attorneys from just one facility in Clint, Texas exposed that young children are being forced to care for toddlers, that they don’t have enough to eat and drink, that they often sleep on concrete floors in freezing cages with the lights on 24 hours a day, and that the facility is not maintaining sanitary conditions since the minors are rarely allowed to shower, bathe, or wash. As a result, the majority of children are suffering from respiratory illnesses and active lice and flu outbreaks. As of now, six migrant children have died in federal custody.

These accounts strongly echo the stories nurses heard and the health conditions they observed when they volunteered this spring with NNU’s disaster relief project, the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), to provide medical care to migrants at a shelter in Tucson, Ariz. 

“Virtually every woman, man, and child we treated who had come out of federal detention suffered from some sort of respiratory illness, dehydration, and was very hungry,” said Cathy Kennedy, an RN volunteer and NNU board member. “The treatment these families received in detention was inhumane.” 

“Nurses know that when we tear children from their mothers, their fathers, their sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles and throw them into cold cages, without adequate food, water, or the support of an adult, we are causing harm, and lasting trauma,” said Castillo. “We are failing to uphold basic human rights when we refuse to provide the bare minimum to keep a scared child warm, fed, and safe. As nurses, we have a moral obligation to demand that our government treat all people with compassion and respect and provide them with the medical care they need and deserve as their very lives, and the lives of their children, hang in the balance.”

National Nurses United is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States, with more than 150,000 members nationwide.