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Meng Demands Answers From DHS About Appalling Treatment of Children, Deprivation of Menstrual Hygiene Products to Girls Detained at the Border

Sep 16, 2019
Press Release
Congresswoman leads 38 Members of Congress in letter to DHS Secretary McAleenan
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, announced today that she sent a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to demand answers on the appalling treatment of children at the border, including the deprivation of menstrual hygiene products for detained girls.
The letter comes in response to a lawsuit filed by 19 states and the District of Columbia about the Department of Homeland Security’s treatment of migrant children in its custody. The lawsuit found that migrant children were living in “appalling” conditions and included testimonials from girls who described the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, and the unsanitary conditions they have had to endure.
“The Trump administration’s daily injustices against migrant families and children seeking refuge is monstrous and must end,” said Meng. “Our system must be compassionate and humane. Children left in cages and in solitude, having food thrown at them, and girls with periods being left to bleed through their clothes and denied showers for days on end – such abhorrent treatment of children is morally reprehensible. I await the Secretary’s answers to my questions and demand the administration to immediately offer the basic necessities children and families need, including menstrual hygiene products.”
Earlier this year, Meng introduced the Menstrual Equity For All Act which would – among other things – ensure that all Department of Homeland Security detained individuals have full and free access to menstrual products.
The text of Meng’s letter, which includes signatures from 38 other Members of Congress including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), is below and a copy of the correspondence can be viewed here.
The Honorable Kevin McAleenan
Acting Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan:
We write to express our outrage over the appalling treatment of children who are in Customs and Border (CBP) custody at the southern border – and thereby, request responses to the following questions. Among the horrific unsafe and unsanitary conditions in which these children were placed, the deprivation of menstrual hygiene products for detained girls further underscores the utter disregard for the safety and well-being of children.
According to court records, the testimonials[1] of detained children illustrate the clear violations of human rights against these children and by the border facility guards. From throwing food on the ground “as if they were animals” to refusing baby formula for infants; from keeping children in “small metal cages” for punishment to the outright withholding of food or clean water – it is unthinkable anyone would treat these vulnerable children in such a manner.
In particular, one girl who was detained for ten days was never offered a shower, “even though she was on her period and was given only one sanitary pad a day.” Another girl noted “they were each given one sanitary pad per day. Although the guards know they had their periods, they were not offered showers or a change of closes, even when the other visibly bled through her pants. This girl had no choice but to continue to wear her soiled underwear and pants.”[2] On top of all the other inhumane violations against children’s well-being, this type of sex-based discrimination is repugnant.
Just last month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled[3] that migrant children detained by U.S. immigration authorities must be provided with edible food, clean water, and basic hygiene items. CBP’s own agency-wide policy, titled National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search, states that “detainees must be provided with basic personal hygiene items” and “detainees using the restroom will have access to toiletry items, such as toilet paper and sanitary napkins.”[4] Furthermore, included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 (P.L. 116-6), $192,700,000 was included for CBP for improved medical care, transportation, and consumables to better ensure the health and safety of migrants.
The degrading treatment of migrant children demonstrates CBP’s failure to: exercise and abide by its own policy set forth to govern CBP’s interaction with detained individuals; abide by the Flores agreement, which sets standard of treatment of minors in the Department’s custody; and use appropriated funds as intended by Congress.
We request responses to the following questions:
  1. Did the Department issue any directives to limit access to menstrual hygiene products to menstruating migrant girls? If not, who made the decision to limit access to menstrual hygiene products to migrant teenage girls?
  2. What protocol is in place to ensure that migrants’ access to sanitary products, particularly menstrual hygiene products, are met?
  3. What actions will the Department take to ensure that detained children are being provided enough basic necessities as required by the Flores settlement?
Thank you for your attention to this issue. We look forward to your prompt response.

[2] Ibid.
[3] Flores v. Barr, 2:85-cv-04544-DMG-AGR (9th Cir. 2019)
[4] U.S. Customs and Border Protection, National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search, October 2015,