Reporters entering a U.S. Border Patrol holding facility for migrant children Sunday saw hundreds of children packed inside metal cages with only foil sheets for blankets and overhead lights that stay on 24 hours a day. The site, an old warehouse in south Texas, is one of several makeshift sites where U.S. law enforcement is keeping migrant families after detaining them for attempting to cross the U.S. border unauthorized.
The site is a product of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of forcibly separating migrant children and parents and criminally prosecuting the parents. More than 1,100 people are being held at the site, which places unaccompanied children in one wing, adults on their own in another, and adults who have children in a third.
The Border Patrol briefly allowed reporters and human-rights advocates to visit the site. Advocates spoke with some detainees, but Border Patrol agents forbade reporters from interviewing any detainees or taking any photographs.
Reporters observed 20 children packed inside one cage, and one teenage detainee told an immigration advocate that she was looking after a young child she had never met before because the aunt was being kept in another wing. The teen said that she had to show other cell mates how to change the child’s diaper.
A group of congressional lawmakers visited the same site Sunday before going to visit a longer-term shelter holding around 1,5000 children. Many of this larger facility’s children were taken away from their parents. One of the lawmakers, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), decried the forcible separations as child cruelty.
“Those kids inside who have been separated from their parents are already being traumatized,” said Merkley, of Oregon, who was denied entry to the longer-term shelter earlier this month. “It doesn’t matter whether the floor is swept and the bedsheets tucked in tight.”