HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — Media crews got their first glimpse of the Border Patrol facility in Donna housing thousands of unaccompanied migrant children that have been at the nexus of the immigration crisis.
It was the same facility that the Senate delegation, lead by Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, visited on their tour of the border last week.
During a press conference on March 26, Cruz said to the gathered press that it was “striking that not a single one of these cameras are allowed into the Donna facility.”
Cruz said that under the previous four administrations, media had been allowed in similar facilities.
“We requested that media accompany us in the facility, the Biden administration said ‘no’,” he said during his visit.
On March 30, a small group of media was allowed inside the facility.
Their videos showed the cramped conditions the migrants in the facility, mostly children, are staying in.
The videos showed several plastic-walled holding rooms, with dozens of kids lining the floor with no room for social distancing, people sitting on benches waiting to be processed, and toddlers playing in playpens that serve as their sleeping area.
“When you have kids involved, you have to take care of these kids. This is not the right place for these kids,” said Oscar Escamilla, acting Executive Officer for Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley.
The facility is supposed to hold 250 people due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements.
Instead, 4,100 people are currently being housed in the tent facility. According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), of those 4,100 migrants, 3,400 are unaccompanied minors.
Escamilla said that it’s not the Border Patrol’s fault that the facility is so over capacity.
“Even if I am able to process a thousand kids in a 24 hour period, it’s not as easy as just being able to turn them over because HHS doesn’t have the facilities nor the beds available to be able to take them into their custody,” said Escamilla.
Border Patrol said that they encounter between 250 and 300 unaccompanied minors a day and on average they stay for 133 hours.
Locating family members can be an extraordinary challenge for the Border Patrol agents tasked with getting the migrant children to their sponsor.
Escamilla told the story of a little girl who had lost the phone number she was supposed to call while crossing the Rio Grande. And another of a little girl who lost her mother.
“Her uncle is going to be the sponsor, so they want to take — this little girl is going into the states, and I asked her ‘what state are you going to, what’s your final destination?’ She said ‘I don’t know, all I know is it snows there, that’s all I know,” said Escamilla.
All the while, around the clock, unaccompanied migrant children continue to cross the border, overwhelming the 80 to 90 Border Patrol agents working at the facility, physically and mentally.
“I’m a father,” said Escamilla. “I don’t want to see that. As a border patrol agent, I didn’t sign up for this.”