A 3-year-old boy from El Salvador was held several days at a Pennsylvania family detention center without his mother, said the mother and boy’s attorney.
The boy had been held at the Berks County Residential Center from Wednesday until Saturday when immigration lawyers interceded on his behalf. He was there alone while his 21-year-old mother, who was detained crossing the border, has been hospitalized with an unknown condition. She asked that her name not be used because she feared repercussions from staff.
The Berks facility is one of three family detention centers where immigration officials detain mothers and children together. The objective is to keep the children with their parents as they await court dates or asylum hearings, but the boy had been held alone under the care of staffers of the detention center staff.
“This is outrageous,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, who represents the mother and her son. “Picture a 3-year-old being detained without his mother, who is in the hospital. He has no idea what that means at the age of 3.”
Reached on Saturday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they needed to review the case. Authorities told Donohoe that he was under one-on-one, 24-hour care. He was safe and had time to play. But Donohoe said the child was “emotionally traumatized” and was not eating, having tantrums and kicking at doors.
Donohoe filed several complaints. Immigration officials told Donohoe they were working on transferring the child to the grandmother who lives in Virginia. The grandmother picked the boy up on Saturday.
Instead of being kept in the facility, he should have been released into the care of his grandmother several days ago, Donohoe said.
The mother was taken to the hospital after complaining of a headache, chills and a fever. At the hospital she learned her red and white blood cells were low, but does not yet have a diagnosis. She does not know when she will be released.
On Sunday, ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said in an email that a Berks facility resident was sent to the hospital after staff at the Berks facility determined she “required additional specialized care.”
“During the resident’s hospital stay, working closely with hospital staff, Berks officials coordinated regular visits by the resident’s child and attorney. The resident’s child was released Saturday to her grandmother,” Walls wrote.
This story has been updated with comment from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.