A Global, Comparative Perspective on US Detention of Immigrant Children

by Vins
Published: Updated:

An interview in the New Yorker with Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior counsel to the Children’s Rights division of Human Rights Watch, discusses the mistreatment of immigrant children held by US Customs and Border Protection officials, and disparities between detention centers in the United States and other countries around the world. Bochenek, who has visited child detainees worldwide, told the New Yorker that conditions in the US are currently defined by a lack of emotional, physical, and educational care for these children. “[T]he cause of that is not that there is not money, or there is no capacity, or there is no expertise,” Bochenek said. “It’s a policy choice. It’s a choice to inflict these kinds of conditions on people, and in this case on children.” The problem is worsened by the prevailing attitude of detention center staff, which Bochenek characterized as “I have a job to do. I’m following orders. I’m just going to look straight ahead and not acknowledge that I’ve got five-year-olds in the cell to the left of me.”

Border Patrol stations in places like El Paso and Clint, Texas, are not equipped to hold children, especially not for as long as they are currently being detained. As other news outlets have reported, children in diapers are caged and left without adequate caret. Bochenek stated that as a country with considerable resources, holding the children in better conditions than their previous state should not be that much of a challenge for this country.

Bochenek, who has international experience visiting detention centers in various parts of the world, also told the New Yorker that, although it has typically been easy to gain entrance into detention centers in most countries, that has not been his experience in the United States.

While a great deal of media coverage has focused on the poor, unhealthy conditions in US detention centers, including in some cases the lifelong impacts this treatment will have on the detained children, the New Yorker’s interview with Bochenek provides a distinctive, comparative perspective on the conditions in US detention centers. Bochenek’s assessment that US immigration detention centers are comparable to those in developing countries and inferior to those in other western countries has not been represented in much of this otherwise critical corporate news coverage.

Source: Isaac Chotiner. “How Detained Children Are Treated Around the World.” The New Yorker, July 10, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/how-detained-children-are-treated-around-the-world.

Student Researchers: Josephine Annino, Yudithzy Barron, Kimberly Elizondo, Trixy Gomez and Tania Mejia (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (Sonoma State University)