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EL PASO, Texas — Migrant children should not be held in detention centers, the incoming president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said Wednesday after touring Customs and Border Protection facilities last week.
“Children do not belong in Customs and Border Protection facilities, or in any detention facilities,” Dr. Sara Goza told NBC News. “No amount of time spent in these facilities is safe for children.”
“More children will continue to die if we do not make sure that every child who passes through federal custody is seen by a pediatric-trained medical professional,” she said. “I personally toured two CBP facilities and did not encounter a single pediatrician at either one.”
The organization provided NBC News with drawings it said were made by children recently released from CBP custody depicting themselves in cages.
The pictures were drawn by children at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, run by Sister Norma Pimentel. The Respite Center is where many families go after being released from CBP custody and processing before heading to their next destinations. The center is where many families get their first shower, clean clothes and a hot meal after arriving in the United States.
The children were asked to draw on canvases to depict their time spent in CBP custody, according to the organization.
One drawing was by a 10-year-old boy from Guatemala, another by an 11-year-old from Guatemala; and the third one was by a different 10-year-old, but the child's country of origin is unknown.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not currently know which CBP facilities housed the children, but said it was working to find out.
Goza said that during her visit to CBP’s Central Processing Center, known as Ursula, in McAllen, “the first thing that hit me when we walked in the door was the smell.”
“It was the smell of sweat, urine and feces,” she said.
Goza described seeing a “cage with boys” between the ages of about 10 and 12.
“They were quiet, and just staring, blankly,” she said. “There were just blank stares and no expressions on their faces.”
On Tuesday, pediatricians from El Paso who have provided care for migrant families released into the U.S. called on immigration authorities to allow them access to children in Border Patrol facilities.
President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon that Border Patrol agents were "not hospital workers, doctors or nurses" and blamed Democrats for the situation at the border.
The president added in a separate tweet that if migrants "are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come."
"All problems solved," he said.
Dr. Carlos Gutierrez, who has been helping migrants at the nonprofit Annunciation House in El Paso, said migrants say their medications are taken from them and not given back after they enter U.S. custody.
“It’s just not right. That’s not the way to practice good medicine,” he said.
There is also no contact allowed between "whoever is providing the medical care" in detention centers and “us on the outside,” he said.
"That is not medical care. That's malpractice," he said.
Gutierrez said doctors are willing to go into those facilities and help, the way they had in previous years such as during the 2014 influx of unaccompanied migrant children.
“It’s very upsetting and I hope to God that this changes quickly,” he said.
Gutierrez reported from El Paso, Silva reported from New York.