Under the Trump administration's cruel and widely condemned family separation policy, immigrant babies and young children torn from their parents at the Southern border have been sent to a trio of "tender age" shelters that, according to lawyers and medical professionals who have visited the South Texas facilities, feature "play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis."
"They've created a jail for babies," ThinkProgress editor and founder Judd Legum tweeted in response to the "absolutely soul-crushing" Associated Press report. "Creating prisons for babies and toddlers is not just another screwed up policy. These are crimes against humanity."
As of Tuesday, at least 2,342 children had been separated from their families since May 5. Images of children in cages and audio of young migrants crying for their parents have fueled international outrage and demands that the administration immediately halt the policy, which critics say amounts to a serious abuse of human rights, and even torture.
With the number of children detained in U.S. custody expected to continue rising as long as the policy remains in place, the AP reports that the government plans to convert a fourth facility in Houston, despite protests from local leaders. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says the fourth facility is a warehouse that was used to house people after Hurricane Harvey, and could hold up to 240 children.
Turner has met with the contractor for the fourth shelter, Austin-based Southwest Key Programs—which is reportedly slated to make some $458 million off of operating child detention centers—to ask the nonprofit to reconsider the plans. At a press conference on Tuesday, Turner said he told the contractor: "I do not want to be an enabler in this process. I do not want the city to participate in this process."
"The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it," Kay Bellor of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which organizes foster care and other services to migrant children, told the AP. "Toddlers are being detained."
The three existing facilities for young migrants are located in Combes, Raymondville, and Brownsville, and, according to the report, "have been rapidly repurposed to serve needs of children including some under 5."
Sen. Jeff Merkley, who recently attempted to visit a facility in Texas, called out Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen—who has been sharply ridiculed for lying about then defending the family separation policy, and even left a Mexican restaurant where she was dining Tuesday evening after being confronted by members of the Democratic Socialists of America's Metro D.C chapter.
While the Trump administration continues to claim the policy is necessary to deter immigrants from coming to the United States and that the shelters are specially equipped to meet the needs of children—despite news reports to the contrary—as South Texas pediatrician Marsha Griffin, who has visited many facilities, concluded, "The shelters aren't the problem, it's taking kids from their parents that's the problem."
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow broke down on air Tuesday night while trying to read the breaking AP report to her viewers. Maddow addressed the moment in a series of tweets following the broadcast.