Here's How US Border Patrol Uses Thermostats To Deter Migration

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“It also encourages people to want to just leave and agree to be deported, because they have no idea how long they’ll be kept in an ‘icebox,’ where their kid is shivering, sneezing and hasn’t slept.”

The Trump administration’s malicious “zero-tolerance” policy has revealed the harsh realities of the kind of treatment the migrants, who illegally enter the United States, receive at the hands of the border patrol agents.

It has also shed light on how some detention facilities lack even most basic of facilities, which is a testament to years of federal neglect.

Just recently, a Washington Post report revealed how detainees, who are held at the border patrol station before being transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, were placed in detention cells which were so notoriously cold that they were often regarded as “icebox.”

The border patrols agents were accused of using the temperature control system as a tool not only to discourage migration but also establish control over those in custody.

Though the accusations date back years, the matter drew widespread attention after the family separation policy prompted several migrant advocacy groups to leap in to action.

“They do it as a form of punishment,” said Peter Schey, one of the lead attorneys in the decades-old Flores settlement which sets detention standards for migrant children in federal custody.

Just last month, Schey along with several other activists took the fight for control of temperatures inside the centers to the U.S. District Court. They cited sworn statements from more than 200 detainees about their treatment while in the custody.

“It was hard to keep warm,” said one Honduran mother. “When other people would leave there would be extra blankets so we would try to take them to have more to keep warm but the guards would notice we had more blankets and they would take them from us so we only had one.”

The woman, who was only identified as Maria A, said her 4-year-old son became “very sick” because of the cold.

Another Honduran mother, identified in court filings as Dilsia R, said her and her 12-year-old daughter’s clothes were damp and muddy from crossing the Rio Grande when they were taken into custody.

“I did not sleep at all that night, it was too cold. I sat there on the ground without any type of bed and shivered to the next day,” the statement said.

A father of 4-year-old Guatemalan boy said they didn’t receive a blanket or a mat even after four hours in custody.

The stories of trembling detainees prompted U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee to appoint a “special master” who will be responsible for conducting random oversight of the facilities.

On the other hand, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials denied any such mistreatment of detainees by deliberately lowering the temperature.

Many of them argued most of the migrants in custody belong to rural areas of Central America, which is why they aren’t accustomed to air conditioning. The agency further insisted the temperature settings were not used for punitive purposes and they make sure to regularly check the thermostat to ensure the temperature is set within the range of what’s deemed reasonable under the terms of the Flores settlement.

However, the attorneys claimed the lower end of the government’s temperature range is too extreme even when compared to homes and offices where the temperature is climate-controlled.

“I know I would freeze in a room that was 68 degrees, and I would want more than a Mylar blanket on me,” said Jennifer Podkul, policy director at KIND, an organization which provides pro-bono services to migrant children.

It is also important to mention the migrants and border patrol agents might share the detention centers, but there’s a world of difference in the living conditions of both the groups.

For instance, in South Texas, where Border Patrol stations receive heavy influx of migrants involve in illegal border crossings, people often arrive with wet clothes after crossing the Rio Grande.

As per the protocol that follows, the migrants have their long-sleeves shirt taken away from them due to concerns about suicide. Finally they are left to sit on benches or floors for hours or days with little place to move.

Meanwhile, the border agents’ jobs require them to move in and out, wearing their thick uniforms which must provide them enough warmth in chilling temperatures of the center.

“Our folks wear long sleeves because they have to go through vegetation, or the desert, where they’re out in the sun. We have to make sure our folks can do their job,” said a CBP official.

“It doesn’t mean we don’t stop trying to make people as comfortable as possible in our custody,” he added.

Nevertheless, Schey said in the hundreds of detainee interviews, 9 out of 10 complained about the cold.

“By keeping the temperatures as low as they do, it really increases the susceptibility of detained children and their parents to go along with whatever the CBP agent who interviews them wants,” he said.

“It’s a way to enforce submissiveness and discourage people from asserting rights they may have to prevent their [deportation],” Schey added. “It also encourages people to want to just leave and agree to be deported, because they have no idea how long they’ll be kept in an ‘icebox,’ where their kid is shivering, sneezing and hasn’t slept.”

Banner Image Credits: REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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