(CNN) — Minors lying next to each other inside plastic capsules. Shelves stocked with supplies, including baby bottles and diapers. Girls huddled in a playpen – where they also sleep at night – singing and coloring with crayons.
The challenge facing the Biden Administration in frontera between the United States and Mexico can be reduced to a series of photos.
On Tuesday, the administration allowed a few members of the media to tour a temporary Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in Donna, Texas. The facility has more people than it can accommodate: there are more than 4,100 immigrants even though its capacity under the pandemic restrictions is 250, Oscar Escamilla, acting executive director of the Valley Operational Programs Division, informed the press. from the Rio Grande.
Of the 4,100 immigrants, 3,400 were unaccompanied minors and at least 39 had been at Donna’s facility for more than 15 days, exceeding the legal limit of 72 hours. In total, there were 5,767 minors in CBP custody as of this Sunday.
The process of minors at the border
Until they are transferred to shelters equipped to care for them, the children must wait in Donna. An installation full of artificial light and the hum of machines and people. Inside one of the large plastic capsules that separate the groups of minors, a girl cries. She is surrounded by other minors on mats on the ground, covered with aluminum foil blankets.
“When minors are detained on the ground, the first place they arrive is at this facility. All unaccompanied minors in the (Rio Grande Valley) come to this facility right here, ”Escamilla noted.
“We already far exceed capacity. We are about 700% above our capacity, “he added later.
In early February, CBP announced that it would open a flexible facility in Donna to process people. This location is different from typical Border Patrol stations and has areas for eating and sleeping, according to the agency.
However, the growing number of arriving migrants exceeded the government’s resources. This resulted in overcrowded conditions and minors spending prolonged periods in Border Patrol custody.
More than 2,000 immigrants at Donna’s facility have been there longer than the legal 72-hour limit. Immigrants spend an average of 133 hours there.
Checks before entering the facility
The images that were recorded on Tuesday offer a look at the overcrowded conditions at border facilities, as well as the large number of minors at the border.
Video footage released by journalists showed an entrance area where minors, wearing masks, were sitting side by side on benches inside a large tent with a portable toilet. Before the minors enter this center, their temperature is taken and the medical staff checks them. Agents also take biometric data, check records, and enter information on families and children. All minors over the age of 14 have fingerprints taken.
While at the facility, immigrants can call home every 48 hours.
New images of plastic capsules
Young children spent time in a playpen to play, where they also sleep at night, according to a reporter who described a purple and pink playpen surrounding a group of about 27 children on an alphabet rug. The children there are usually between 3 and 9 years old.
There is also a series of transparent plastic capsules lined up where the minors sleep, each approximately 300 square meters. According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each should house just 32 minors. In the three capsules that the reporter toured, there were 516, 576 and 615 minors.
In a capsule visited by reporters, the minors stood shoulder to shoulder waiting to be given a snack with a Capri Sun and some Goldfish crackers. Inside each capsule, minors sleep, sit, and stand back to back.
Typically, unaccompanied minors must be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours after being taken into Border Patrol custody. This agency is in charge of the care of migrant minors, except in exceptional circumstances.
Once in your care, case managers work to have children go to a sponsor in the United States, such as a parent or relative. However, due to the pandemic and precautions to prevent the spread of covid-19, until recently the department had only been able to use just over half of the beds it has for minors.
In recent days, the department advertisement the start-up of a series of new facilities, relying on convention centers, military installations and entry shelters to accommodate minors.
‘We can’t give them to anyone’
“While (the Office of Refugee Resettlement) has worked to increase its authorized bed capacity to nearly 13,500 beds, additional capacity is urgently needed to manage both enhanced covid-19 mitigation strategies and the growing number of ( unaccompanied minors) referred from the Department of Homeland Security, ”HHS spokesman Ken Wolfe said in a statement.
However, even with those beds in operation, more and more children are found along the border.
“What hinders us is having to take care of 1,200 minors. We already finished. We have already completed the Border Patrol process, so if HHS could take responsibility for these children away from us, then it would be better for everyone, “said Escamilla. We’re not in the detention business. We are forced to go into business because we cannot give them to anyone.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism