- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Revoke Title 42, the Trump-era order that effectively halted all crossings at the border in the name of COVID-19 prevention.
- Increase federal funding and resources to both address the growing numbers of migrants and avoid the horrific conditions that often come with influxes.
- 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.