US Customs and Border Protection has finally released photos from inside crowded migrant facilities where children are seen packed in pens and sleeping in foil blankets on the floors after thousands upon thousands of migrants have crossed the border from Mexico into the US in recent weeks.
Photos released Tuesday by the CBP give a glimpse into what life is like inside the temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, and the Central Processing Center in El Paso, Texas, as the agency said it was aiming to ‘balance the need for public transparency and accountability’ but still told ‘external visitors’ not to come to the facilities.
The images show children lying packed in like sardines side by side on mattresses on the floors inside a transparent tent facility in the Donna center. The children are wrapped in foil blankets for warmth and are wearing face masks, but there is clearly no room for social distancing in the small confined space.
Migrant children are also seen standing in line to get access to essential items while other children held in cage-like tents look on and wait their turn.
The release of the images comes after the Biden administration has faced mounting criticism for a lack of transparency over the conditions inside the facilities after repeatedly denying media requests for access to the sites.
Around 5,000 unaccompanied minors were held this weekend in CBP detention centers designed for adults as the influx of migrants has meant there is no space to move them to shelters ran by the Department of Health and Human Services’s refugee agency.
A leaked memo sent Monday revealed the agency is now directing the shelters to fast-track the release of children to parents or guardians in the US to free up beds to take more children from the CBP detention centers.
One image shows children lying packed in like sardines side by side on mattresses on the floors inside a makeshift facility in Donna
Another image is taken from the outside of a transparent tent looking in on the dozens of people packed inside
Migrant children stand in line inside a temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, to get access to essentials while other children held in cage-like tents look on and wait their turn
A children’s play area is seen inside the temporary processing facility in Donna. The play area has a handful of toys and appears to be in a storage room or waiting area
In the Donna facility, numbered transparent tent-like pens are seen set up on both sides of a room each packed with migrants who are awaiting processing to enter America.
An image taken from the outside of one of the tent looks in on the dozens of people packed inside with pieces of foil blankets scattered around.
There is a children’s play area set up in what appears to be a storage room or waiting area, with a handful of toys for younger kids.
The CBP said it was sharing the images in an effort to ‘balance the need for public transparency and accountability’ in the wake of a backlash.
‘CBP continues to transfer unaccompanied minors to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as quickly and efficiently as possible after they are apprehended on the Southwest Border,’ it said in a statement Tuesday.
‘In order to protect the health and safety of our workforce and those in our care we continue to discourage external visitors in our facilities; however, CBP is working to balance the need for public transparency and accountability.’
This comes one day after Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar shared images from inside the Donna facility taken over the weekend as he said 400 unaccompanied male minors are being held in ‘terrible conditions’ in a space meant to hold a maximum of 260 people.
Cuellar said he did not take the images but said they offer an insight into the ‘terrible conditions for the children’ at the border, where he has recently toured a different shelter for children.
Migrants stand in line inside a temporary processing facility in Donna as the CBP said it was sharing the images in an effort to ‘balance the need for public transparency and accountability’
A migrant is embraced by a child inside the Donna facility. The CBP finally released photos Tuesday after denying media requests for access
CBP personnel at work inside the Donna facility. Photos released Tuesday give a glimpse of what life is like inside the temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, and the Central Processing Center in El Paso, Texas
HHS’s refugee agency directs shelters to fast-track release of migrant children into the US
The Department of Health and Human Services’s refugee agency has directed its shelters to fast-track the release of migrant children to parents or guardians in the US in order to free up beds to take more children from the CBP detention centers, according to a leaked memo.
An internal email from the Office of Refugee Resettlement Monday, obtained by CBS, issued new guidance shelters to expedite the release of ‘category 1’ minors – children with parents or legal guardians in the US willing to house them.
The guidance cited exceptions to the rule including where the children are ‘especially vulnerable’; if their cases require a legally-mandated home study; or if there are red flags about their parents or legal guardians.
Children must legally be transferred from CBP detention centers to the HHS shelters within 72 hours of their arrival.
But due to the influx in migrants, there are too few beds to take in all the children and a backlog in the arrivals being processed.
As of Saturday 2,226 children had been held in custody for more than five days and 823 for more than 10 days.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday Cuellar’s images proved what the Biden administration has said all along – that the border facilities are no place for children.
‘These photos show what we’ve long been saying, which is that these border patrol facilities are not places made for children,’ she said in her press briefing on Monday.
‘They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey that is not, in our view, the right choice to make.’
Still refusing to call the situation at the US southern border a crisis, Psaki added: ‘Children, presenting at our border, who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations is not a crisis.
‘We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance, and make sure they are treated and put in conditions that are safe.’
Psaki also said Monday she didn’t know when media would be given access to the border facilities despite repeated requests by reporters to be allowed to visit.
The Biden administration has so far banned media access to the facilities amid a growing humanitarian and political crisis at the US southern border. Lawyers and lawmakers have been given tours.
‘We are working to finalize details and I hope to have an update in the coming days,’ Psaki said after admitting ‘putting in place more effective and efficient processing at the border… is going to take some time’.
Psaki had previously said there would be organized trips for press to gain access to detention facilities but later walked back on those comments, instead promising photos to show conditions.
Then last Thursday, Psaki said the White House would not be releasing to the media photos that advisors shared with President Biden to brief him on conditions on facilities housing childhood migrants on the border.
Psaki said Monday that children at the facilities have been tested for COVID-19 and those who needed to be quarantined were separated out from the rest of the population.
She didn’t have a timeline on when the president might go the border after Biden said on Sunday he would make a trip at some point.
A total of 823 unaccompanied children were held at US-Mexico border facilities for more than 10 days – more than a fourfold increase over the last week, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security document leaked to Axios Sunday.
Congressman Henry Cuellar released the images; he confirmed they were taken over this weekend
The pictures show inside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary overflow facility in Donna
Rep. Cuellar said they offer an insight into the ‘terrible conditions for the children’ at the border
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had said there would be organized trips for press to gain access to detention facilities; later, she walked back on those comments and refused to share images from the facilities
Cuellar said that as of Sunday 400 unaccompanied male minors were being kept in a tent meant to hold 260
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the disturbing images of the cramped conditions inside a migrant ‘overflow’ tent in Texas showed what the Biden administration has said all along – the border facilities are not the place for children
Children are not supposed to be held in border patrol custody for more than three days. As of Saturday 2,226 children had been held in custody for more than five days and 823 for more than 10 days.
The number of unaccompanied migrant kids in US custody surpassed 15,000 as of Saturday as the Biden administration announced that they ‘would not expel young, vulnerable children.’
This is a reverse of Trump administration policy, which was to generally expel all people who tried to illegally cross the border, regardless of age.
Since Biden’s inauguration on January 20, the US has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials.
There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered in February – an increase of 168 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Center.