Border Facility for Unaccompanied Migrant Children Is at Least 700% Over Capacity

Illustration for article titled Border Facility for Unaccompanied Migrant Children Is at Least 700% Over Capacity
Photo: Dario Lopez-Mills, Pool (AP)

After recent reports of overcrowding at a temporary U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Donna, Texas where unaccompanied immigrant children are held, the Biden administration allowed a few members of the media to tour the facility on Tuesday. The photos and videos taken by journalists from inside the facility paint a dark picture of the overcrowded and inhumane conditions that these children are facing.


The Donna facility was divided into smaller “pods” by thick plastic walls, each of which was designed to only hold 32 kids each, but the pods seen by the reporters were currently holding between 500 and 700 children, CNN reports. Young children were kept in a smaller playpen area, which is also where they sleep at night. Although the children in the facility wore masks, they are only tested for covid-19 if they start to display symptoms, despite being forced to live in extremely close quarters. Currently, the covid-19 positivity rate at the Donna facility is approximately 14 percent.

The facility is currently housing 4,100 migrant minors—more than 10 times over its CDC-mandated pandemic capacity of only 250, said acting Executive Officer for Rio Grande Valley Operational Programs Division Oscar Escamilla. Of those immigrant children, 3,400 were unaccompanied, and more than 2,000 had been kept at the facility for over the 72-hour legal limit within which unaccompanied children must be turned over within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services. Migrant children spend an average of 133 hours at the facility, and at least 39 of the children had been in the Donna facility for over 15 days.

According to Escamilla, about 250 to 300 children typically enter the Donna facility each day, but far fewer are released into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has quickly led to the extreme overcrowding that they are now experiencing.“We’re way overcapacity. We’re like 700% overcapacity,” Escamilla said.

The HHS has announced the creation of a number of new border facilities to accommodate immigrant children, with plans to build up its capacity to 13,500 beds, which doesn’t do much for the hundreds of new unaccompanied children who are detained along the border daily.

Freelance writer & night blogger at Jezebel. Lover of television, astrology, and sandwiches.


Moses Hightower

It looks like exactly what I would expect the situation to look like right now.

Trump’s administration spent four years screwing up the asylum and immigration systems, as well as filling ICE and CBP with ideologues who have shown signs of resisting the changes in policy.

The facilities in place have been put in a position to fail and are, unsurprisingly, failing. The existing terrible facilities are overburdened, and building extra capacity takes months, not days. The silverish lining to this awfulness is that the kids are getting out of the facility after 5.5 days, on average.

This is why I was irritated by the people on the left deriding the new facilities for unaccompanied minors, as if they were more pleasant concentration camps. You need transition facilities until you can find these kids more permanent placement. The kids have to stay somewhere. You need to get their information, you need to run background checks on the people taking the kids.

It’s not enough to want better for them, we need to build better for them, and that will take time.