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Shelter Data Pinpoints US Destinations Of Asylum Seekers

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A detailed snapshot of the recent surge of asylum-seeking families crossing into the U.S. from Mexico gives a sense of how they were treated after entering and where they settled.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 A new report on the conditions experienced by thousands of asylum seekers in us. Immigration detention centers has been released. It finds that large percentages of the immigrants report substandard, unsanitary conditions including spoiled food, no room to sleep and no access to showers. The analysis focused on the care files of 7,300 asylum seeking families between October, 2018 and this June it was conducted by researchers at UC San Diego. And joining us by Skype is the author of the report, Tom Wong, associate professor of political science at UC San Diego and director of the U S Immigration Policy Center. And Tom, welcome back to the program. Thanks for having me again. Now, what files did you examine on these immigrant families and how did you obtain them?

Speaker 2: 00:51 Yeah. So the San Diego Rapid Response Network has assisted over 7,000 asylum seeking families, uh, from October, 2018 to June, 2019 each time one of these families enters into the care of the San Diego Rapid Response Network, they do an intake. And so part of the intake questionnaire includes the treatment that asylum seekers, uh, experienced while in immigration detention as well as other items including demographics. So we were able to look at the entire universe of these intakes. Uh, so just imagine for each family, uh, there's a file, uh, with questions and answers and my team independently analyzed, uh, all of the data from the 7,000 plus asylum seeking families.

Speaker 1: 01:41 Can you talk more about the major findings in this report? What percentages of the asylum seekers reported these poor conditions?

Speaker 2: 01:49 So out of one, out of every three, we have more specific data on a conditions and treatment. For example, we see that over 60% of individuals reported issues related to food and water. And the intakes are an impressive trove of data because it gets very specific. So we're talking about things like not being fed a, going hungry, being fed spoiled food, uh, not getting formula for infants. For example, when it comes to food for water, we have not being given water, being dehydrated, not getting enough water as well as having to drink dirty or, or foul tasting water. Some other major findings, we saw a video from a department of Justice attorney a couple of months ago go viral because they were arguing that uh, toothbrushes and toothpaste weren't part of safe and standard sanitary conditions. Uh, we see that over one third of those who reported issues in immigration detention reported issues related to hygiene.

Speaker 2: 02:58 So this is the, and toothpaste, but also not being able to shower, not having access to a clean and sanitary toilet. Uh, among other issues related to hygiene. And then lastly, we see that there are over 200 cases of asylum seeking heads of households reporting, verbal abuse, including being told, go back to your effing country and that you're an ape among other examples. And we have 40 instances also of physical abuse, including an individual being thrown against the wall simply for wanting to get a drink of water. So we previously had glimpses into what asylum seekers were experiencing while being detained along the US Mexico border. These data provide a systematic accounts that point to how pervasive a substandard conditions and mistreatment actually are in immigration detention. And in many ways that might be worse than we thought. Has the Department of Homeland Security responded to these findings? No, I have not heard, um, from DHS or any of the component agencies.

Speaker 2: 04:08 I welcome a conversation, uh, with DHS, uh, and with border patrol in particular, but we also found other due process related issues that are potentially solvable. Not a political left political right kind of fight. But one of the things that we found was that border patrol when processing and these asylum seekers were not giving individuals instructions, uh, about their immigration proceedings, including their immigration court dates, times and locations in their primary language. So language access is a big issue, uh, that came up in the data. And so I have not yet heard from DHS, but I welcome that conversation not just to talk about conditions and treatment in detention, but also talk about how border patrol is interacting with asylum seekers and communicating vital information about immigration proceedings to them. What can a documented report like this add to the debate about conditions at the border?

Speaker 2: 05:10 Many of these claims have been made before and they've been largely ignored. If previous accounts of mistreatment and abuse at the southern border haven't outraged us enough, uh, and compelled us to act, then hopefully the fact that these data showed that these experiences are pervasive and systematic, hopefully that is motivating enough to change the conversation and if the those data don't do the trick, then the fact that the experiences that the heads of households were reporting affect their 7,900 kids five years or younger. If that doesn't get us out of our seats, then I don't know what will. I've been speaking with Tom Wong, associate professor of political science at UC San Diego,

Speaker 1: 05:59 director of the U S Immigration Policy Center. Tom Wong, thank you so much for your time. Thank you. KPBS has reached out to the US Department of Homeland Security for comment and have not heard back.

Speaker 3: 06:15 Uh.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.