19 states are suing over 'cruel, inhumane, and illegal' conditions for detained children

The testimonies are jarring.

There is no doubt that the ongoing migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border is a difficult problem to solve. How to handle a large influx of people arriving at our doorstep and how to expediently process increasing asylum claims is a big question with many unclear answers.

But there's one thing we should be crystal clear about. Inhumanity should have no place in our immigration policies, and cruelty toward children should never be tolerated, period. And yet, that's exactly what we are seeing in our detention facilities.


Nineteen U.S. states have filed a joint lawsuit alleging inhumane conditions in U.S. immigration detention centers, specifically when it comes to children. The lawsuit includes first-hand accounts from detainees ages 12 to 17 describing how they were held in crowded cells without enough room to lie down and no privacy to use the toilet. They said the facilities were kept at frigid temperatures, and when someone complained, guards lowered the temperature further. Those who were lucky enough to be given aluminum blankets had them taken away at 4 a.m., and some had only the bare, cold floor to sleep on. They said guards woke the children in the middle of the night for "roll calls," yelled or cursed at kids who cried, and took some kids away to stay in dark rooms by themselves overnight. They said the food they were given was sometimes still frozen or smelled or tasted "off."

RELATED: An immigration lawyer's viral post reminds us that every statistic is a human story.

Overcrowding is a problematic but understandable reality considering the large numbers of migrants we're seeing. However, there is no excuse for some of the actions and conditions these children described.

Turning the air conditioning up so high as to be torturous, and turning it up even higher when detainees complain? Not okay.

Taking away children's sweaters or other warm clothing and then forcing them to sleep on a bare floor in freezing cold conditions? Not okay.

(Considering how some Americans like to complain about wasting taxpayer money on immigrants, I'm surprised there's not more uproar about this. Air conditioning is expensive. It must be costing a fortune to keep detention facilities at ridiculously cold temps at the hot Mexico border. Why is that necessary?)

Keeping the lights on all night long and disrupting the little amounts of sleep these kids are getting? Not okay. (Sleep deprivation is a form of torture for a reason.)

Not allowing a menstruating girl to shower for 10 days when there are showers available? Only allowing a menstruating girl one sanitary pad per day, even when she's bled through it, her underwear, and her clothing? Not okay.

Yelling and swearing at scared little kids for crying? Not okay.

Not providing enough food and water and then throwing food on the floor for children to fight over? So. Not. Okay.

How is it that we can afford to keep the lights on at all hours, but can't afford to provide kids with toothbrushes or soap or sanitary pads? How is it that we can keep the air conditioning blasting on high all day and night, but can't provide adequate water and decent food?

Check out some of the excerpts from the sworn statement of Alma Poletti, Investigation Supervisor for the Washington State Attorney General's Office, describing what the children reported.

The freezing conditions made worse when someone complained:

"Children described these facilities as rooms of different sizes with no windows to the outside and where lights were kept on 24-hours per day. Most of the children reported these detention facilities were freezing, kept at extremely cold temperatures. Children were only given 'aluminum' blankets to keep themselves warm. Some of them had sweaters or spare clothes with them when they arrived at the detention facility, but these were confiscated by the immigration officers (the children referred to them as 'officers' or 'guards') and they were never returned to them even if a child asked for warm clothes or additional blankets. One girl recalled instances when mothers who were detained with their children complained to the officers about the cold temperatures because their kids were getting sick. An officer would then grab the air-conditioner remote. After that, the room would get colder, as if the officer had been annoyed by the request and decided to lower the temperature even further."

Purposeful sleep deprivation:

Some of the children reported that guards would interrupt the little rest they had, waking them up in the middle of the night for roll call, or to put out food. Children reported feeling like there was no need for the guards to wake them up in the middle of the night and that officers were doing it on purpose to intentionally disrupt their sleep. One girl said guards would take away their 'aluminum' blankets every morning at 4 a.m. The blankets were the only thing they had to keep themselves warm in the freezing facility, so kids wanted to keep them, but would be yelled at by the guards when they asked if they could have the blankets back."

Children who cried being put into isolation in a dark room:

"If the children would not stop crying, a guard would open the door, ask the crying child to come to the door, and then threaten them. The 16-year old girl heard guards tell children that if they did not stop crying, they would be 'left in a corner' with no one to help them, or that they would be 'sent to a dark room.' Over the ten days this girl was detained, she saw three children taken away only to return the next day; when they got back they said they had been kept in a dark room alone. One six-year old boy was taken to the dark room because he accidentally clogged the toilet with toilet paper."

Guards yelling and swearing at a 7-year-old for crying:

"A different girl remembers that two guards started cursing at a seven-year old girl with horrible words that she refused to repeat to interviewers. The guards were yelling and swearing at the younger girl because she would not stop crying."

That's only a taste of what's in Poletti's testimony. The whole thing is worth a read.

No one expects immigration processes to be perfect, but we absolutely should expect our government to be humane. How we treat fellow human beings isn't about political ideologies, but about basic human decency. There is no excuse for mistreating children, especially those who are already scared and confused. There's no excuse for wasting electricity on excessive air conditioning and 24/7 lights while denying children access to basic hygiene. It's not necessary; it's cruel.

RELATED: After 246 days of separation, this woman and her daughter are finally reunited.

No matter what our stance is on immigration, no matter what we think needs to be done about it, we should all be able to agree that cruelty to children is not okay. We must maintain a basic level of humanity and have lines that we simply refuse to cross as we grapple with our immigration questions. Morally and ethically, subjecting children to this kind of treatment when we have the ability to choose otherwise is unconscionable.

Legally, it's also unacceptable—we've created laws and regulations to avoid keeping children in such conditions and to avoid detaining them for too long. Hence this lawsuit.

We cannot allow state-sanctioned cruelty to children—any children—to go unchecked in our name.


Democracy

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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