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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Photos show the crowded conditions where migrant kids are being held at the US-Mexico border

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Inside the Texas Border Patrol facility

  • Photos, which Rep. Henry Cuellar shared, show crowded conditions in a Texas Border Patrol facility.
  • An estimated 13,500 migrant children were in government custody as of Thursday.
  • The Biden administration hasn’t let journalists independently visit the facilities.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The number of unaccompanied migrant children detained at the US-Mexico border has continued to rise throughout the first three months of 2021.

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.

According to senior administration officials, US Customs and Border Protection 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 currently in its care.

The Biden administration has opened up various Border Patrol facilities to house these incoming migrants.

At one facility in Donna, Texas, pictured above, adults and children sit in what appears to be makeshift rooms separating out groups of people.

Each room is cordoned off by what looks like a plastic enclosure, drawing comparisons to jail cells. Journalists have so far been prohibited from viewing and entering the facilities. These photos, shared with Insider by Rep. Henry Cuellar, provide insight into the conditions.

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 appear to sit on the floor.

Nearly 3,000 children detained by Border Patrol have been held beyond the 72-hour limit permitted by federal law before a child must be moved to an HHS facility, CBS News reported.

The situation at the border is quickly turning into a political firestorm, and is poised to generate more concern as people see the conditions inside the facilities.

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.

Key changes — such as measures to reverse controversial Trump-era policies — have led to thousands of migrants, and many unaccompanied children, to come to the US-Mexico border from Central America.

Republicans, including the former president, have taken the surge as an opportunity to bash the Biden administration.

Former President Donald Trump in a statement derided Biden’s newly instated immigration agenda.

He said the reversal of his own policies led to a rise in migration at the southern border.

Lawmakers fear that the surge will become a humanitarian crisis, as Border Patrol agents, for example, struggle to care or provide resources for incoming groups. The potential spread of the coronavirus among these groups of people only exacerbates that concern.

The Biden administration has implemented changes that aim to treat migrants fairly and humanely, in an attempt to overhaul Trump’s immigration policies.

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.

In a Monday press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki refrained from calling the surge a “crisis” at the border, saying the White House is working with different government agencies including HHS to “ensure we’re following COVID protocols.”

“Children presenting at our border who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis,” she said. “We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance and make sure they are treated and put into conditions that are safe.”

Psaki also insisted that the Biden administration wants to “make sure the media has access to these sites,” but did not give a concrete timeline on when that would happen.

“These photos show what we’ve long been saying, which is that these Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children,” she added. “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.”

The State Department is broadcasting to people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil, and Mexico that now is not a good time to come to the US, but the administration still has to deal with all the migrant children who are currently here.

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.

Psaki also played up the strategies the Biden administration is doling out to cap the number of people traveling to the US, particularly from the Northern Triangle countries.

The State Department, for example, has created more than 17,100 ads since January 21 to discourage people from migrating. These ads have reached about 15 million people, Psaki said on Monday.

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.”

In anticipation of a surge in migrant traffic, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been ordered to facilitate a “government-wide effort” that would “safely receive, shelter, and transfer unaccompanied children who make the dangerous journey to the US southwest border.”

Biden has a number of solutions he could try to implement to deal with the thousands of migrant children coming to the US-Mexico border. Experts recommend against holding kids in jail-like settings.

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.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also said the surge is not equivalent to a crisis at the border and that the administration is strategizing potential ways to contain it.

That could take the form of opening more facilities near the southern border, for example.

Experts generally agree that this surge is not a crisis yet, but can turn into one.

To prevent a real crisis, experts told Insider’s Erin Snodgrass there are numerous steps the Biden administration could follow:

  1. Revoke Title 42, the Trump-era order that effectively halted all crossings at the border in the name of COVID-19 prevention.
  2. Increase federal funding and resources to both address the growing numbers of migrants and avoid the horrific conditions that often come with influxes.
  3. Avoid placing children in carceral settings or unlicensed facilities. They should instead be kept in child-appropriate settings with small group settings and a high staff-to-child ratio.

Insider’s Erin Snodgrass contributed to this report.

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Biden wants to send migrants to the northern US border amid effort to wrangle those arriving at the southern border

us-mexico border migrant children
Central American asylum seekers arrive to a bus station after being released by U.S. Border Patrol agents on February 26, 2021 in Brownsville, Texas.

  • US Customs and Border Patrol wants to fly migrants to processing sites up north.
  • There’s been an influx of migrants arriving at the southern US border, with a lag in processing.
  • The Biden administration has already sent FEMA there to assist.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden’s administration is looking to fly migrants arriving at the US southern border to processing facilities in northern and coastal states, as the US deals with an influx of people seeking shelter in the US, The Washington Post reported.

The Post spoke to two Department of Homeland Security officials and reviewed an email that showed US Customs and Border Protection requesting planes to transport migrants as 1,000 people including unaccompanied minors crossed the Rio Grande on Friday morning.

It’s not clear which states they want to send the migrants to, but The Post reported many northern states do not have the capacity to process that many people.

There are an additional 1,000 people who could not be processed since last night, The Post said.

Biden’s administration has already mobilized Federal Emergency Management Agency to help handle the influx at the border, which recent CBP data suggests is similar to the surge of migration in 2019 when hundreds of thousands of migrant families sought asylum.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration also transported migrants from the southern border to facilities that had space to hold them in other parts of the country, The Post reported.

Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the US is on pace to see more people at the US-Mexico border “than we have in the last 20 years.”

This comes as the Biden administration faces criticism for the continued severe overcrowding at migrant holding facilities, a relic of the Trump administration, that Biden promised to undo.

One New York Times report found over 1,360 migrant children were held for longer than the mandatory 72-hour limit permitted by US law.

Earlier this week, CBS News also reported there are over 4,000 minors being held, with thousands of them being held in jail-like facilities meant for adults for extended periods of time.

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