Photo shows unaccompanied migrant children crammed in a single playpen at an overcrowded border facility

Monitored by a caretaker, young unaccompanied migrants, aged from 3 to 9, watch TV inside a playpen at a US Customs and Border Protection facility.

  • A photo shows unaccompanied migrant children housed in a playpen at a border facility.
  • Children aged between 3 and 9 are kept there with mats for sleeping, the AP reported.
  • The facility is overcrowded, and pods around 3,200 square feet had more than 500 children in them.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A photo shows young, unaccompanied migrant children crammed in a playpen at an overcrowded facility at the US-Mexico border.

The single Department of Homeland Security facility in Donna, Texas, that has a capacity of 250 is housing more than 4,000 migrants, including children, the Associated Press reported.

And some pods around 3,200 square feet in size had more than 500 children in them, according to the AP.

One photo shows young children, wearing masks due to the coronavirus pandemic, in a crowded playpen.

According to the AP, the children aged between 3 and 9 are kept apart from everyone else, and are kept in a playpen where they have mats for sleeping. They are the youngest children in that facility’s custody, Oscar Escamilla, acting executive officer of the US Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, told the AP.

The children in the playpen crossed the US-Mexico border by themselves, Escamilla added.

An increased number of unaccompanied children have been arriving at the US border after policy changes by President Joe Biden’s administration, including measures to reverse controversial Trump-era policies.

The Biden administration says that it doesn’t want to turn unaccompanied children away to dangerous conditions, or to send them to someone in the US who has not been properly vetted – leading to crowded centers at the border.

Human rights groups say that children are being held in “inappropriate” detention centers.

See more photos of the facility here»

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Human-rights groups are urging the Biden administration to get children out of the makeshift Border Patrol facilities

border patrol migrant children temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas
A temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, seen on March 17, 2021.

  • Human-rights groups are calling out the Biden administration for crowded Border Patrol facilities.
  • The government is holding migrant children in “inappropriate” detention centers, human-rights groups told Insider.
  • These facilities have not yet been seen by journalists, but government-shared videos show children in crowded spaces and sleeping on mats just inches off the floor.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As shocking videos and images began to emerge showing the inside of various Border Patrol facilities where migrant children are being held in Texas, human-rights groups are calling out the crowded conditions.

These organizations say the holding facilities are inappropriate for children, and they’re urging the Biden administration to find different solutions to temporary migrant housing.

On Monday, Rep. Henry Cuellar shared with Insider photos that gave the public a first look into migrant facilities under the Biden administration.

In these photos, dozens of masked children can be seen lying down on gray mats. Some are crowded into corners, despite the threat of the coronavirus spreading. Others are simply sitting on the floor.

migrant children border patrol facility us mexico border biden administration
A Border Patrol facility in Donna, Texas, housing migrant children on the weekend of March 20, 2021.

On Tuesday, US Customs and Border Protection, under pressure from journalists who have repeatedly requested access into the facilities, posted two videos of the inside of various holding centers that were taken last week. The Biden administration has so far barred journalists from viewing and entering the facilities, citing privacy and coronavirus concerns.

These government-produced and -released videos showed that dozens of children are being held in crowded conditions that lawmakers believe will evolve into a humanitarian crisis. Many children are seen sleeping on mats just inches off the floor. Groups of them sit in plastic-enclosed spaces, clutching foil blankets as they sleep. There are few adults in each space.

It’s these conditions that human-rights organizations are calling inappropriate.

“Border Patrol stations are not an appropriate place to hold children and asylum seekers,” Clara Long, associate director at Human Rights Watch, told Insider.

Former President Donald Trump has been out of office for two months now. But experts say his administration has had a lasting impact on how the Biden administration is navigating immigration policy.

“What we’re seeing is the consequence of dedicated negligence from the previous administration – a lack of planning and resources invested in facilities to welcome children seeking safety, who were already arriving,” said Denise Bell, Amnesty International’s researcher for refugee and migrant rights.

“And that is where we must focus: the children who are seeking safety,” Bell added. “The conditions need to be much better and much faster.”

Temporary Processing Facilities cbp migrant children border patrol
A Border Patrol temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, for migrant children and families, pictured March 17, 2021.

During the 2020 presidential election, Biden positioned himself as a pro-immigration candidate focused on bettering the system for incoming migrants.

In January 2019, for example, Biden slammed Trump’s idea to build a wall along the southern border. “We need border security but that’s not the border security we need,” he said.

Now that he’s in office, Biden is working to deliver on promises he made on the campaign trail, enacting measures to reverse controversial Trump-era policies.

These key changes put forth by the Biden administration, however, have led to thousands of migrants – and many unaccompanied children – traveling to the US-Mexico border from Central America as they flee persecution, violence, and poverty in their home countries.

According to senior administration officials, CBP had approximately 4,500 unaccompanied minors in holding as of Thursday, while the Department of Health and Human Services has more than 9,000 children in its care.

In an attempt to mitigate the surge of migrants, the Biden administration has opened up various Border Patrol facilities for temporary housing.

“The Biden administration inherited a broken, diminished system,” Long said. “It’s not surprising that things are taking a while to get in to hand. What we need to see from the Biden administration is consistent progress toward the goals it has articulated: humane and dignified border reception, holistic policy responses to migration and access to protection for those who need it.”

For its part, the Biden administration is taking steps to limit immigration to the border.

The State Department has created more than 17,100 ads since January 21 to discourage people from migrating. These ads have reached about 15 million people, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a Monday briefing.

It’s not clear whether this approach to limit immigration to the United States is working.

“This is just part of our effort to send a clear message,” Psaki said. “But there is no question that funding is needed to address the root causes in these countries.”

White House officials and immigration experts have so far refrained from calling the surge a crisis. But the Biden administration recognizes that the facilities are not meant for long-term accommodations.

“These Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children,” Psaki said. “They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey – that is not, in our view, the right choice to make.”

Detention is psychologically damaging to children

The children are held in border facilities as they await transfer to other federal agencies. The government is required to transfer migrant children to Health and Human Services custody within 72 hours. But with the influx of unaccompanied minors coming to the US-Mexico border, nearly 3,000 children have been held beyond that limit, CBS News reported.

Temporary Processing Facilities cbp migrant children border patrol
A Border Patrol temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, for migrant children and families, pictured March 17, 2021.

“Even short stays in detention centers have the potential to be traumatic experiences,” said Kathryn Humphreys, assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University.

“We know from our research on orphanage care that children fare best when they have reduced exposure to group-based care and long-term family-based placements when they form relationships with those that are their parents or parent-figures,” she added.

CPB and HHS custody and detention centers qualify as group-based care. Such environments normally do not allow children to form the type of relationships with adults that help them grow and develop, Humphreys told Insider.

Adults help “co-regulate children, both emotionally and physiologically,” she said. Going without these trusted adults, even for short periods of time, can lead to stress in children and them falling behind developmentally, socially, and academically.

The Biden administration is “obligated to hold children in conditions that meet United States and international standards that support their best interests,” Bell of Amnesty International said. “Children must be held in conditions that meet their best interests and safely reunified with families and sponsors much more quickly.”

“This is a time for transformation – as the administration adapts right now, it must also set in motion the changes needed for a new system where detention is not assumed and children are with their parents and sponsors,” Bell added.

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How JFK customs searches 1 million packages a day for illegal items

Following is a transcription of the video.

Narrator: About 1 million packages arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport every day. And just like travelers have to go through customs, so do international packages. The US Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, is tasked with screening all of them. They’re looking for anything that isn’t legally allowed in the US; certain foods, animals, drugs, and counterfeit goods.

JFK is one of nine international mail facilities in the US. It’s essentially the country’s biggest mail room, dealing with roughly 60% of all international packages entering the country.

First, the packages are taken off arriving passenger or cargo planes and transported to the US Postal Service’s mail room on site. They’re sorted and then taken to the CBP mail facility next door for inspection. CBP uses a three-tiered strategy to efficiently search each of these packages; intelligence gathering, nonintrusive inspection, and hand inspection. We followed two units searching for drugs and counterfeit items.

Before a package ever lands in the US, CBP gathers intelligence on the sender, the container, and the aircraft. They’ll check with law-enforcement partners like Homeland Security, the DEA, and the FBI to see if there’s anything of interest. This is how CBP narrows down a million packages to ones that will get flagged for further inspection.

Once a suspicious package is pulled, it goes to the CBP inspection area. This is where human CBP officers get a little help. Here, a four-legged officer, like Alex, will search hundreds of packages in 20-minute runs. These dogs are trained to sniff out seven different drugs.

Michael Lake: The drugs that they are trained for are hash, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, as well as fentanyl.

Narrator: If Alex finds something, he’ll notify his handler by sitting or lying down. If he’s right, he gets his chew toy.

Lake: This is the game that they work for. All right, it’s good play. Here’s a good boy, good boy.

Narrator: And if Alex or one of his furry friends comes in contact with a drug, officers have the antidote Narcan on hand. Nearby, CBP officers are using another nonintrusive search tool: X-rays.

Nathanial Needham: When I first started this, I would literally open up everything ’cause I couldn’t tell what the image was. But eventually, after you do thousands of parcels, opening them up and comparing them to image, now you start getting good. You can identify, oh, that’s this, oh, that’s this. We can let that go because of this.

Narrator: If they see something on an X-ray monitor that looks suspicious, officers will isolate the package.

Needham: Can we pull that one, actually?

Narrator: Isolated packages go through an intrusive search. Officers will cut them open to hand-search for drugs or counterfeit goods.

Needham: I always got taught, basically, expect a package to be something that’s going to your mom, so that if it is good, it’s coming back to your mom the same way that it’s supposed to be.

This is common. It’s, like, from back home. It’s pills, certain kind of vitamins, and they get them from their little pharmacy. I’m pretty sure that this right here is actually a steroid.

Producer: Is that allowed?

Needham: No. The worst part is you don’t know what’s in these capsules.

Narrator: If the officer finds drugs, the package is sent to Murielle.

Murielle Lodvil: That’s 4,000-plus pills here.

Narrator: But if he finds a counterfeit good, it’s sent to Steve. We’ll start with Murielle.

Lodvil: The strangest areas that we find drugs concealed are radio speakers or even car bumpers. For some reason, they love to place cocaine in car bumpers. It’s crazy, where we even find drugs in Play-Dohs. Also books, children books. In between the lining of the pages, you’ll find drugs there.

Narrator: Murielle tests the drugs with a spectrometer called a Gemini. Using lasers, the machine can pierce through packaging and tell what drug is inside.

Lodvil: Right now, I’m gonna test this particular package. It’s telling me that it’s ketamine. It’s used for horse tranquilizer and also painkillers.

Narrator: Murielle will label the drugs based on where they fall among the DEA’s drug schedules, Schedule V being a drug with the lowest potential for abuse or dependence, like Robitussin, and Schedule I being a drug with the highest potential for abuse, like ecstasy.

Lodvil: We have the GBL coming from the Netherlands, and someone in New York is receiving it. Steroid, a Schedule III, coming from Hong Kong. Then we have the carisoprodol coming from India. And then we have the tramadol coming from Singapore.

Narrator: Any scheduled drugs will be seized.

Lodvil: There is no day that we come to work that we don’t find anything. Every day is a sense of importance because of the fact that we taking out those particular drugs from the street.

Narrator: The narcotics unit had over 7,600 seizures in 2018, including 246 pounds of cocaine and over 360 pounds of ecstasy.

Now, back to Steve. He’s the one that gets all the counterfeit goods. That’s anything that infringes on a company’s intellectual property rights, or IPR. Think fake Air Jordans, Gucci purses, or Rolex watches. Companies like Louis Vuitton and Gucci train Steve on the telltale signs for spotting a fake. While most of the tips are kept top secret to protect the brand, there are a few things that Steve could share with us.

Steve Nethersole: The first, when it comes in, is the country of origin. These high-end manufacturers here, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, they’re coming from France, Italy, Spain. The watch is coming from Switzerland. When it’s coming from China, bing, that’s your No. 1 red flag. Then you look at the dilapidated boxes, so that’s two red flags there. A third thing is commingling. The high-end manufacturers never commingle their products, like, in other words, a Gucci inside a Fendi or a Louis Vuitton. These people will stuff watches, a wallet, inside a handbag. And so, they’ll never commingle their products. They are so precise.

Some of the things I could say, like, some of the manufacturers, they don’t put any of this in it, the filler, inside it. They would never do that. We’ll look at the smell. Sometimes it smells like petroleum. It’s not real leather. We look at the stitching. We look at the symmetry of the logos by the manufacturer, the zippers. This one here is a Coach bag with a Michael Kors zipper. This coat has “Burbelly” on the buttons instead of Burberry, so these are the comical things that we find when you look at it up close, and you could pick it right out.

Narrator: Counterfeit goods make up an estimated trillion-dollar industry that’s even been linked to terrorist groups around the world. In 2018, CBP had over 1,800 IPR seizures. And if all those counterfeit goods had gone on to sell at their suggested retail price, they’d total an estimated $54 million. So, where do all these seized goods end up anyway?

Well, most of the narcotics and counterfeit goods will be sent to a top-secret incinerator to be destroyed. Some of the drugs will go under further testing, while some of the counterfeit goods may be donated if the offended company allows it. But, in some cases, if the illegal goods are part of a greater investigation, CBP officers will actually put that package back in the mail. Then, they’ll track it all the way to the person it was sent to. This is known as a “controlled shipment.”

Lodvil: I’m the one who opened that package, and now I’m involved in this controlled delivery. Now I get to finish the story. All right, now we go out. We knocked on your door, you open. Hello, we noticed that you’ve ordered, you know, this particular package. It’s MDMA. What’s the story behind it? So then, we listen.

Narrator: But whether they’re up against fake Guccis or dangerous amounts of fentanyl, CBP stands guard at the country’s busiest mail facility.

Lake: This is where it comes. You don’t see it all the time coming across the border in trucks and big bundles, like the TV will have you see. This is where it’s all coming from, and it hits the street and it destroys lives. So, in our way, if we can stop it here, it’s one less tragic story, probably, that we’re gonna have to hear about.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in September 2019.

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Trump’s crackdown on the US-Mexico border has been a moneymaker for border agents working with traffickers

FILE PHOTO: A police officer gives a leaflet with information about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to a person entering to Mexico from the United States, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 29, 2020. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A police officer gives a leaflet with information about COVID-19 to a person entering Mexico in Ciudad Juarez, March 29, 2020.

  • President Donald Trump has cracked down on the US-Mexico border throughout his time office, increasing enforcement and putting up new barriers to entry.
  • But instead of stopping illicit traffic across the border, those tighter restrictions have likely facilitated the corruption that criminal groups rely on to move drugs and people into the US.
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Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO – President Donald Trump’s crackdown on the US-Mexico border hasn’t stopped illicit traffic crossing it or deterred officials who secretly help it across.

Mexican drug cartels have been paying more money to more US agents than ever before in order to move drugs and people across the border, according to documents and sources who spoke to Insider.

The Trump administration has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to virtually close the border. Trump has built and often bragged about 400 miles of new border wall, installed dozens of surveillance cameras manned by the military, and boosted the number of border agents.

But none of that has had the desired effect: Traffickers have paid millions of dollars to US border agents to keep drugs and people flowing throughout Trump’s time in office.

“We pay as much as $10,000 to a migra [Border Patrol officer] only to look the other way while we are using a tunnel to smuggle drugs and to tell us of new trends on surveillance,” said a Mexican woman in charge of smuggling operations for a drug cartel in El Paso, Texas.

As Trump tightened surveillance on the border, their costs went up.

border wall
Contractors erect a section of 30-foot high border wall along the Colorado River in Yuma, Arizona, September 10, 2019.

“We used to pay no more than $5,000 to a single agent a month or every two months, but now we are paying twice that every month for a migra to give some information,” the woman told Insider.

The cartel operative, who asked not to be identified to avoid retribution, said cartels not only have ties to the Border Patrol but to CBP officers at the international bridges as well.

“Some of them provide us with the shift role so we know who is gonna be working where on that week and plan our shipment. That way we know if one of the agents working [with us] is gonna be on a shift and exactly on which lane number,” she said.

In addition to bribes with money, cartels use young girls, according to a Mexican diplomatic source, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.

“They are bribing CBP officers on ports of entry with girls. The girls start hanging out with them and they convince the officers to let illegal cargo through,” the source said.

The cartel operative in El Paso confirmed that was a method to entice border agents.

Border agents “love alcohol and women,” she said. “We started inviting some of the agents to party across the border, in a house we have in Juarez [in Mexico], and we set him up. At the beginning the officer working for us started because we were threatening him with showing his pictures with an underage girl to his wife, but later he learned to love money.”

FILE PHOTO: A woman touches a family member through the border fence between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, United States, after a bi-national Mass in support of migrants in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, February 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A woman in Mexico touches a family member through the border fence between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, after a bi-national Mass in support of migrants, February 15, 2016.

Stricter controls at the border are directly responsible for an uptick in corruption cases, most of them related to organized crime, according to David Jancsics, a professor at San Diego State University and author of the 2020 report “Corruption on the US-Mexico border.”

“Tighter border security may further increase the level of this type of bribery. A trust-based strategic conspiracy between the corrupt partners is already the dominant form of border corruption in the United States,” Jancsics said.

Jancsics’ report estimates that workers with the Department of Homeland Security accepted $15 million of bribes over a 10-year period.

“By the logic I would say with Trump the corruption must be worse than before, but it’s very difficult to say. We only know of people arrested, which are small numbers – the tip of the iceberg,” said Jancsics.

During the Obama administration, cases of misconduct among border officers dropped steadily. But since 2017, when Trump took office, cases have reached a five-year high, according to a recent internal Customs and Border Patrol report.

There were 286 total arrests during fiscal year 2018 – 268 CBP employees arrested twice, one employee arrested four times, and one employee arrested five times.

The charges include drug smuggling, bribery, theft, and sharing classified government data, records show.

“As an Agency charged with law enforcement activities, CBP regards any violation of law by its employees as being inconsistent with and contrary to its law enforcement mission,” the CBP report states.

During 2020, at least a dozen CBP employees were arrested on suspicion of working directly with criminal organizations at the border, according to media releases.

Trump and border patrol
President Donald Trump with US Customs and Border Protection officers at McAllen International Airport in McAllen, Texas, January 10, 2019.

In August, a Border Patrol agent in Arizona was arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs for a Mexican criminal organization. The same month, a US border agent was arrested in Juarez and accused of smuggling 30 rounds of ammunition, a loaded firearm magazine, and a bulletproof vest.

In September, six border agents were arrested on suspicion of stealing cocaine and marijuana from dealers to sell in the US. That month, a CBP officer in Laredo was arrested in connection with four murders and one kidnapping.

Customs and Border Protection did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent in San Diego, said corruption is part of Border Patrol culture.

“To my knowledge, no other agency is as bad as the Border Patrol in terms of corruption. Since Trump took office he has empowered corrupt agents. They feel Trump is one of them and they can do whatever they want,” Budd said.

Budd worked with former border agent Raul Villarreal, who was arrested in Tijuana in October 2008 and convicted four years later of running a human-smuggling ring that brought hundreds of immigrants across the US-Mexico border illegally.

“It still is very common for Border Patrol supervisors to smuggle drugs or people using their own official vehicles. There are agents that have cartel connections before even entering BP,” Budd said.

Budd, now a whistleblower about Border Patrol corruption, thinks management is responsible for corruption and abuse inside the agencies.

“I’ve been advocating in Washington for the Border Patrol and CBP [to] be managed by an external agency. That would be the only way out,” Budd told Insider.

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