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.