July 2 (UPI) -- Protesters across the United States on Tuesday called for an end to migrant detention centers, voicing outrage over reports of inhumane conditions.
Social justice organizations including MoveOn, United We Dream, American Friends Service Committee and Families Belong Together organized the protests against President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance policy leading to separation of families and detention of children.
MoveOn encouraged protesters to gather outside various U.S. senators' and representatives' offices to demand they close the detention facilities. More than 180 demonstrations were planned across the United States with the social media hashtag #CloseTheCamps. Other protest demands included withholding funds for detaining and deporting migrants and reuniting families, a MoveOn statement said.
Crowds gathered from San Francisco to Vermont, Florida to New York City.
Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a pediatrician who visited a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention center in Clint, Texas, submitted a court declaration likening the conditions to "torture facilities." Migrant children are sleeping on concrete floors with the lights on 24 hours a day, with no access to soap or basic hygiene, she said.
The Trump administration argued in court that children in U.S. custody did not need basic hygiene products like toothbrushes and soap. Department of Justice lawyers claimed that forcing children to sleep on concrete floors in crowded cells met safety requirements.
Sevier, who interviewed 39 children, said there were "extreme cold temperatures," "no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water or adequate food."
"All 39 detainees had no access to hand-washing during their entire time in custody, including no hand-washing after bathroom use," Sevier said.
"It's not okay to let this go on for a minute longer while thousands of children and families are suffering," Emma Einhorn, the campaign director for MoveOn, told Newsweek. "We're calling on every member of Congress to use every power and every tool in their toolbox in order to make sure that we get relief to these families right now."
"Horrifically, these conditions aren't an accident," MoveOn said. "They are the byproduct of an intentional strategy by the Trump administration to terrorize immigrant communities and criminalize immigration - - from imprisoning children in inhumane conditions to threatening widespread raids to break up families to covering up reports of immigrants dying in U.S. custody and abuses by ICE," Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and CBP agents.
On Monday, Propublica published a report that roughly 9,500 current and former CBP members including a supervisor were part of a 3-year-old Facebook group that joked about deaths of migrants with apparent disregard for lives, and posted other derogatory, racist, xenophobic and sexist images and remarks.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who previously compared the facilities to concentration camps, also visited detention centers in Texas Monday. She tweeted that the mistreatment went beyond the kids to everyone.
"Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water and had told them to drink out of the toilets," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Monday. "This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress."
When asked about the inappropriate behavior, CBP superiors said "officers are under stress and act out sometimes," she tweeted.
Ocasio-Cortez was a among several lawmakers, reporters, doctors and lawyers who have visited the facilities and reported unsanitary conditions, lack of food, clothing, mattresses and sick people being denied medical care.
In sworn affidavits for a lawsuit, children recounted being separated from parents or guardians and being crowded in cells they called cages.