Nutrition Should Be Improved at Border Facilities

Hannah Martin, MPH, RD, Director, Legislative and Government Affairs at Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

The reported conditions at U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facilities have raised concerns for many organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The Academy has sent several communications on this issue to government agencies, including a June 2018 letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with more than a dozen health organizations signing on to address their concerns regarding the mental and physical well-being of children affected by its immigration policy.

It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that access to enough food for an active, healthy life is a basic human need and fundamental right, and that children and adolescents should have access to an adequate supply of healthful and safe foods that promote optimal physical, cognitive, and social growth and development. We also believe that individuals’ medical needs and religious dietary restrictions should be assessed and fully met. Further, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and all its relevant contractors should ensure that breast-fed infants have continuing access to human milk from their mothers during periods of separation.

The Academy is concerned about the lack of access to adequate, appropriate food and nutrition at U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facilities, inadequate nutrition and food safety standards for the food provided at these facilities, CBP's failure to comply with their own standards and the lack of transparency regarding these issues. Statements from members of Congress, the DHS Office of Inspector General’s report, Management Alert–DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention of Children and Adults in the Rio Grande Valley and our review of the Customs and Border Patrol National Standards of Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search, indicate that CBP is meeting neither its own standards nor minimally adequate nutrition policies in general.

In a letter submitted in July 2019 to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Domestic Policy Council, the Academy urged an improvement in standards and conditions at CBP detention facilities, offered professional partnership and collaboration to facilitate solutions to the problems and requested a meeting with DHS leadership to further discuss these challenges and opportunities for improvement. In August 2019, the Academy submitted an additional letter to the Office of the Inspector General requesting additional information regarding the oversight of and compliance with relevant food and nutrition standards at CBP detention facilities.

The Academy is also working with members of Congress to glean additional information from Congressional visits to the border and to improve nutrition standards at CBP detention facilities through legislation.

Our next step will be to put forth a national sign-on letter for other organizations to join us in expressing their concern over and calling for improvement in the food and nutrition standards and practices as CBP detention facilities. Organizations interested in signing onto this letter or learning more should contact hmartin@eatright.org.