Biden administration shares video of overcrowded children’s shelter amid controversy ‘over terrible conditions’

‘We have to stop kids and families making dangerous trek across Mexico to come to United States’

Andrew Buncombe
Donna, Texas
Tuesday 23 March 2021 16:31 GMT
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Children in custody inside Texas migrant centre
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The Biden administration has released photographs and video footage of a migrant children’s processing centre in Texas, amid mounting controversy over the “terrible conditions” being faced by the youngsters.

In what appeared to be a clear attempt to confront what has turned into perhaps the first major test for the president on an issue he vowed to be more humane on than his predecessor, the US Customs and Border Protection agency released two videos and dozens of photographs of the facility, close to the border with Mexico.

The footage shows the children being brought in from busses, their hair being checked, and then places where they are processed.

It also shows areas where the youngsters line up to get food, and even a group of girls outside doing exercise in the sunshine. There is also a play area with toys.

Yet, the video and images make it very clear how little room the youngsters have in a facility said to be more than 700 per cent over capacity. One image shows a sleeping area with mattresses and tin-foil blankets, but with the children just a few inches from one another. Some have face masks.

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The government acted just hours after Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar released images showing the children sleeping in very crowded conditions inside the facility. Mr Cuellar’s vast congressional district – Texas 28 – covers Donna, which is  located both about 10 miles from the US city of McCallan, and the international border with Mexico.

Mr Cuellar told Axios the facility represented “terrible conditions for the children” and said they need to be moved more rapidly into the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

He said Border Patrol agents are “doing the best they can under the circumstances” but are “not equipped to care for kids” and “need help from the administration”.

“We have to stop kids and families from making the dangerous trek across Mexico to come to the United States. We have to work with Mexico and Central American countries to have them apply for asylum in their countries,” he said.

Activists for the youngsters say is it good that attention is being paid to the plight of the children, but point out the so-called “surge” of unaccompanied minors at the border is more complicated than recent headlines suggest.

They point out that last March, Donald Trump made use of Article 42, an antiquated piece of public health legislation to block migrants seeking asylum they presented a public health risk. At least 13,000 youngsters were deported.

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In December, a federal court blocked the Trump administration from continuing to deport unaccompanied migrant children.

The number of children being expelled fell from 3,200 in October to 1,520 in November, to just three in December and 18 in January, according to The New York Times.

In January, an appeals court stayed the ruling and Mr Biden could have continued to expel children. He said he would not do that, since Mexico had said it would not accept them, but has continued to expel families and adults.

As a result, activists say, what is being seen at the border is a backlog of cases, rather than a new surge. 

They also argue it is better the youngsters’ claims are processed in the US, rather than in Mexico.

At the same time, there appears little doubt that the election of Mr Biden, and his vow to find a more holistic approach to immigration than Mr Trump, has given heart to many in Central America. 

And while the situation is complex the images of the overcrowded facilities packed with children, have created a genuine crisis for Mr Biden. They have also been used by Republicans to attack him and accuse him of “opening up the border”.

“Despite your administration’s refusal to admit this is a crisis, the American people are beginning to understand the gravity of the situation,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz, announcing he would visit the border this week with 14 of his colleagues.

Video showed youngsters exercising outside in sunshine
Video showed youngsters exercising outside in sunshine (Customs and Border Patrol)

The camp is located south of the town of Donna, close to McCallan, and 50 miles west of Brownsville. When The Independent passed on Monday evening it was lit up with spotlights but was otherwise quiet. 

A lawyer whose group has visited the facility said there were genuine issues about access to phones, and adequate showers. 

The Biden administration has been under pressure to allow children to visit, but has so far not announced one.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US government was working to provide further accommodation for arrivals “in the coming days and weeks”.

“Places where kids can have access to healthcare, can have access to educational resources - even legal resources,” she said.

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