BY JOHN BOWDEN – 06/19/18 10:13 PM EDT    The Hill 

 

The Trump administration is reportedly operating three “tender age” detainment facilities in Texas, where undocumented babies and toddlers are sent after being forcibly separated from their parents.

The Associated Press reports that at least three facilities housing hundreds of children are already operational in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville, Texas, while a fourth in Houston is being planned.

Children as young as “toddlers” are being detained in the facilities, according to an employee of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, who spoke to AP.

“The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” the organization’s vice president Kay Bellor told the AP. “Toddlers are being detained.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services defined “tender age” children as any child under 13, and defended the facilities as well-staffed by “trained clinicians.”

“We have specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category,” Steven Wagner told the AP.

“They’re not government facilities per se, and they have very well-trained clinicians, and those facilities meet state licensing standards for child welfare agencies, and they’re staffed by people who know how to deal with the needs — particularly of the younger children.”

South Texas pediatrician Marsha Grimes, who has visited several facilities, told the AP that staff and facility standards weren’t the problem.

“The shelters aren’t the problem, it’s taking kids from their parents that’s the problem,” she said, noting that the children were often scared and acting out.

Thousands of children have been separated from parents as part of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which mandates that all asylum seekers who cross the border illegally be prosecuted, thus separating parents from children upon detainment.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended the policy Monday during a White House press briefing, arguing that the administration cannot selectively apply the law.

“Congress and the courts created this system, and Congress alone can fix it,” she told reporters.

TAGS KIRSTJEN NIELSEN IMMIGRATION UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS TENDER AGE FACILITIES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES HOMELAND SECURITY FAMILY SEPARATION