The Biden administration restricted journalists from access to holding facilities at the border from the day of the inauguration until Tuesday, when two reporters from the Associated Press and a CBS News crew were allowed into the main Customs and Border Protection detention facility for migrant children. The large tent structure in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas was designed to hold 250 people, but on the day reporters visited, it held over 4,000 children and families, with some unaccompanied minors being forced to sleep on mats on the floor.
The facility in Donna, Texas, is meant to process migrant children in CBP custody before they are transferred to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services, at which point the agency relocates them to family sponsors in the U.S. But with the Biden administration blocking all asylum seekers during the pandemic except for migrant children, the facility is now severely overcrowded, as the Associated Press reports:
More than 4,100 people were being housed on the property Tuesday, 3,400 of them unaccompanied children and the rest people who arrived in families, a mix of parents and children. Most were unaccompanied children processed in tents before being taken to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services and then placed with a family member, relative, or sponsor.
The children were being housed by the hundreds in eight “pods” formed by plastic dividers, each about 3,200 square feet (297 square meters) in size. Many of the pods had more than 500 children in them, spaced closely together and many of them laying on the ground on mats and foil blankets …
The youngest children — among them, a 3-year-old girl being cared for by her 11-year-old brother and a newborn with a 17-year-old mother — are kept out of the pods and sleep in a playpen area.
Several hundred migrant children are currently arriving at the border on a daily basis, as families make the decision at the border to send minors ahead alone so that they can be processed. Though evidence does not support claims that there is a surge in migrant arrivals, immigration advocates say that does not excuse the conditions in the holding center:
While the law states that the government cannot keep children in CBP custody for more than 72 hours, children are now spending an average of 117 hours in the holding facilities. Health and Human Services shelters are also facing a backlog amid the seasonal rise in migrant traffic, as the agency plans to build out more “semi-permanent and soft-sided” centers if needed. On Monday, HHS also put out a call to federal workers asking for assistance with “urgent efforts” at the border, requesting volunteers for 120-day deployments to help manage the increase in unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody.