Thousands of children that came across the southern border illegally are crowded in the Donna overflow detention facility near the border in the southern tip of Texas, according to leaked images.
The images show hundreds of children huddled under emergency blankets in the jam-packed “cells,” divided by transparent plastic curtains hanging from metal frames. Eight such “cells” form a “pod.” The facility, composed of several interconnected massive tents, contains eight “pods” that hold an average of 3,000 people at any given time, according to Project Veritas, an undercover journalism nonprofit that released the images on March 22. That adds up to 47 people per cell on average.
— James O’Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) March 22, 2021
Inside the cell, the floor is lined with what appears to be four-inch-thick mattresses, though some children seem to be sleeping on the floor. There’s barely any room left to walk in and out through the single glass-pane door per cell.
“They are separated by age or physical size depending on room,” the source of the images told Veritas. “Fifty were COVID positive in these cells over the last few days. There have been multiple sexual assaults, normal assaults, and daily medical emergencies.”
The 185,000-square-foot facility was finished about a month ago, while the pictures are a few days old, Veritas said.
Another set of images, showing similar conditions, was released by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).
The Biden administration has blocked media and NGO access to the facilities, claiming privacy and safety reasons, but also denied requests for images to demonstrate the conditions inside.
The Department of Homeland Security responded to a request for comment by referring to comments by the department’s secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, during a March 21 CNN interview:
“I have said repeatedly from the very outset a Border Patrol station is no place for a child,” Mayorkas said. “That is why we are working around the clock to move these children out of the Border Patrol facilities into the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services that shelters them.”
As of March 14, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents were holding more than 13,000 unaccompanied children in custody, according to CBS News. Many were held longer than the legal limit.
CBP noted a more than 100 percent month-over-month increase in February in border encounters with family units and unaccompanied minors coming in illegally. Republicans have for weeks been calling the border situation a crisis, while the White House has avoided using the term.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on March 21 predicted that 1 million people would try to make their way into the United States by summer, attributing the influx to policies of President Joe Biden.
“It’s going to get worse. It’s going to get a lot worse, springtime, summer, more and more come over. The message is coming back that, ‘Hey, we got a new president, come on in, we’re open for business to the traffickers,’” McCaul said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
Biden in his first days in office signed several executive actions to reverse many of the Trump administration’s immigration policies meant to deter Central Americans from trying to enter the United States illegally. Instead, Biden proposed a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens and promised to create “a humane asylum system.”
The Biden administration stopped the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program, which required most illegal immigrants to remain in Mexico while their cases were adjudicated. “Catch and release” has taken the place of MPP, and illegal border crossings, including unaccompanied minors, have surged.
Update: The article has been updated with a response from the Department of Homeland Security.