(CNN) US Customs and Border Protection held more than five dozen children, some under the age of 1, in facilities along the US-Mexico border for over three days during the last two months, according to a new federal court filing.
The filing prompted Democratic lawmakers to urgently request information from the Trump administration.
"We write out of grave concern for the children the Trump administration continues to neglect and treat with disregard at the southwest border," Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas, Jerry Nadler of New York, and Zoe Lofgren of California, among others, wrote to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf in a Tuesday letter obtained by CNN.
"In the last two months alone, CBP has detained 14 children under the age of five for longer than five days, including a one-month-old baby who was detained for over 16 days in September 2020," the lawmakers wrote.
The court filing includes accounts from children held in CBP detention. For example, a 15-year-old boy from El Salvador held at the Weslaco Border Patrol Station, located in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, described sleeping in a sitting position "because there were so many people in the room," according to a declaration submitted to the court.
"I met eight other boys who were detained with me who had been detained four days. They have all left the facility," he said. He was detained there for three days.
An 8-year-old boy from Guatemala was held at the station while his ill mother was transferred "to an unknown location."
"My mom is somewhere else. I think she is in the hospital because her back hurts. I have not been able to talk to her because she is sick. They told me that I cannot leave until she gets here," he told an attorney, according to the court filing.
The Democrats' letter is based on government data provided to lawyers in the Flores settlement case. The so-called Flores settlement agreement requires the government to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to their parents, other adult relatives or licensed programs. Holding children for more than three days in facilities is a violation of that agreement, with limited exceptions.
The extended detention of children raised alarm among immigrant advocates and lawmakers last year when apprehensions at the US-Mexico soared and shelters for children were at capacity. But the latest string of incidents comes at a time when arrests have declined compared with 2019. It's unclear what has led to the increased time in detention in recent months.
The government has "steadfastly refused to disclose the reason" for the prolonged detention of children, lawyers said in a Monday court filing in the US District Court for the Central District of California.
Asked for comment by CNN, CBP said it "does not comment on pending litigation. However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations."
Customs and Border Protection facilities are not meant for extended care; they are intended to quickly process migrants. As a result, they are often ill equipped to handle the prolonged detainment of migrants.
An attorney, Denise A. Rosales, found that to be the case last week during a visit to the Border Patrol substation at Weslaco, where she interviewed unaccompanied children, according to a declaration submitted to the court.
Rosales observed lack of social distancing.
"Children reported sharing a cell with 16-20 other children," the declaration reads. "When I asked if there were social distancing measures being taken within the cells, the children told me there were not. Many children reported that they were very cold. During an interview, one child commented on how nice the sun was. She said she had not seen the sun in over two days."
Most children appeared to have arrived at the southern border with family, including the 1-month-old who was held for approximately 16 days. Of the 36 children held for longer than three days in September, 31 were listed as in the "family unit/group" column, while five were listed as having arrived unaccompanied, according to the court filing.
In October, of those held for an extended time, 27 children were listed as arriving with family and/or in a group, while eight were listed as arriving alone.
Fifteen children appear to have been subjected to a public health order, related to the coronavirus pandemic, that allows the Trump administration to swiftly remove migrants arrested at the southern border. A federal judge recently blocked the practice for unaccompanied children.
Lawmakers requested a response from Wolf within 30 days. "These children deserve and are legally entitled to care and humane treatment after the treacherous journey from their countries of origin," the letter concludes.