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Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Biden administration FINALLY lets media into biggest shelter for migrant kids - where one in seven has COVID: Rammed tent structure is at 1,700% capacity with 2,000 kids who've overstayed 72-hour legal limit - and there's a lice outbreak

 President Joe Biden's administration has allowed journalists inside its main border detention facility for migrant children for the first time, after weeks of shutting the media out and releasing their own photos.

The tour on Tuesday revealed a severely overcrowded tent structure in Donna, Texas, where more than 4,000 migrants, including children and families, are crammed into pods.

The youngest are kept in a large play pen with mats on the floor for sleeping, because the facility is at 1,700% capacity and the dormitories are full.

Border guards say 14 per cent - roughly one in seven - of the migrant children have tested positive for COVID while photos also show detainees being treated for lice, amid fears of an outbreak.  

Two thousand children have already overstayed their 72-hour legal limit and at least 39 have been stuck in the cramped quarters for two weeks.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection allowed two journalists from The Associated Press and a crew from CBS to tour the facility in the Rio Grande Valley.

It is the same shelter visited by GOP Senator Ted Cruz and another 18 Republicans over the weekend - but this is the first time the press has been given a full tour. 

The shelter has a capacity of 250 but more than 4,100 people were being housed on the property Tuesday. 

Most were unaccompanied children processed in tents before being taken to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services and then placed with a family member, relative or sponsor.

More than 4,000 migrants are crammed into pods in the tent structure in Donna, Texas, which is said to be at 1,700 per cent capacity

More than 4,000 migrants are crammed into pods in the tent structure in Donna, Texas, which is said to be at 1,700 per cent capacity 

Young migrants lie inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention centre for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Young migrants lie inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention centre for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Monitored by a caretaker young unaccompanied migrants, ages 3-9, watch TV inside a playpen at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children

Monitored by a caretaker young unaccompanied migrants, ages 3-9, watch TV inside a playpen at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children

Migrants are processed at the intake area of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas, as journalists are let inside for the first time

Migrants are processed at the intake area of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas, as journalists are let inside for the first time

Migrants speak to their relatives inside a phone booth after being processed at the intake area of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas

Migrants speak to their relatives inside a phone booth after being processed at the intake area of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas

Young children rest inside a pod at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, in Donna, Texas; the children are housed by the hundreds in eight pods that are about 3,200 square feet in size; Many of the pods had more than 500 children in them

Young children rest inside a pod at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, in Donna, Texas; the children are housed by the hundreds in eight pods that are about 3,200 square feet in size; Many of the pods had more than 500 children in them

Newly-arrived migrant children wait to be process at the Donna, Texas, facility

Newly-arrived migrant children wait to be process at the Donna, Texas, facility

A young migrant gets treated for possible lice before entering the intake area

A young migrant gets treated for possible lice before entering the intake area


Young children and their families lie inside a pod at the Department of Homeland Security holding facility run by the Customs and Border Patrol

Young children and their families lie inside a pod at the Department of Homeland Security holding facility run by the Customs and Border Patrol

People talk to an agenyt outside one of the pods at the holding facility

People talk to an agenyt outside one of the pods at the holding facility

The children were being housed by the hundreds in eight pods about 3,200 square feet (297 square meters) in size. Many of the pods had more than 500 children in them.

The conditions at the border are spiraling into a public relations nightmare for the administration. 

New images released every day show children on rafts crossing the Rio Grande, Republicans have shared photos of kids sleeping on the floor of overcrowded shelters wrapped in silver foil blankets, and the government numbers predict more migrants are coming. 

With thousands of children and families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks and packing facilities, Biden has been under pressure to bring more transparency to the process.  

Oscar Escamilla, acting executive officer of the U.S. Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, said 250 to 300 kids enter daily and far fewer leave.

'That number is so lopsided,' said Escamilla. 

On Tuesday, journalists watched children being processed. They went into a small room for lice inspection and a health check. Their hair was hosed down and towels were tossed in a black bin marked 'Lice.' 


The minors - many of whom have made long journeys to get to the border, including stretches on foot - were also checked for scabies, fever and other ailments. No COVID-19 test was administered unless a child showed symptoms.

Nurse practitioners also gave psychological tests, asking children if they had suicidal thoughts. All shoelaces were removed to avoid harm to anyone.

The children were then led down a green turf hall to a large intake room. Those 14 and older are fingerprinted and have their photo taken; younger children did not.

Then they were taken to a second intake room where they got notices to appear for immigration court. Border Patrol agents asked them if they had a contact in the U.S. and allowed the child to speak with them by phone.

Children were given bracelets with a barcode that shows history of when they showered and medical conditions.

Outside the facility, the roar of construction equipment could be heard along with air conditioning units.


Young children look out from inside the pod where they are living in over crowded conditions

Young children look out from inside the pod where they are living in over crowded conditions

A migrant is processed at the intake area of the center in Texas, which is at 1,700% capacity

A migrant is processed at the intake area of the center in Texas, which is at 1,700% capacity

Migrants are processed at the intake area after crossing into the United States

Migrants are processed at the intake area after crossing into the United States

Migrant families wait to be questioned at the facility

Migrant families wait to be questioned at the facility

A migrant and her daughter have their biometric data entered - children were given bracelets with a barcode that shows history of when they showered and medical condition

A migrant and her daughter have their biometric data entered - children were given bracelets with a barcode that shows history of when they showered and medical condition

The shelter is the same one Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas led 18 fellow GOP senators to see last week when he hosted a border trip designed to criticize the Biden administration's policies.

Republicans argue Biden's decision to roll back many of Donald Trump's stricter border policies has led to the recent migrant surge. 

Cruz posted photos of children being held in crowded conditions - many sleeping on the floor - in one of the shelter.

'Democrats like to pretend their open-borders policies are somehow humane,' Cruz told 'Fox News Sunday.' 

'There's nothing humane about what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are doing at the border. They're subjecting kids to horrific abuse, they're endangering their lives in a pandemic by keeping them locked up in cages right on top of each other,' he said. 'This is a humanitarian, health and national security crisis.' 

Last week, the Biden administration let a media crew into a better migrant shelter for children than the overcrowded ones where thousands of kids are being held - a facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that also has been toured by lawmakers. 

It was the first time the administration let press cameras inside a government-run shelter. Previous images from the shelters were from lawmakers who visited. The administration has faced criticism -from both reporters and Republicans alike - for not letting independent cameras inside the shelters.

But last week's press access was to one of the shelters ran by the Department of Health and Human Services, not one of the ones being run by U.S. Customs and Border Control. It's the CBP shelters that have had reports of crowded conditions where the HHS ones are more permanent facilities. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked why the media were being sent to an 'aspirational' facility instead of one of the crowded shelters.

'We're also open to providing access there, and this is just the first step in the process of providing greater access to the media to decision,' she said at her daily press briefing.

'I would say we all agree that that the Border Patrol facilities are not places where children should be, they are children should be moving more quickly through those facilities that is what our policy central focus is right now,' she added. 

The children are supposed to be held from three days by border patrol and then transferred to more permanent facilities run by DHS. But the overcrowded conditions have delayed transfers, leaving thousands of children stuck in a holding pattern as they wait to be processed.  


A young migrant gets a medical check-up before entering the intake area

A young migrant gets a medical check-up before entering the intake area

A migrant and her daughter wait for their turn at the intake area as the Department of Homeland Security says there could be twice as many migrants crossing the southern border this year

A migrant and her daughter wait for their turn at the intake area as the Department of Homeland Security says there could be twice as many migrants crossing the southern border this year

Young migrants get processed at the intake area

Young migrants get processed at the intake area 

Migrant families sit at the initial intake area waiting their turn to be processed

Migrant families sit at the initial intake area waiting their turn to be processed

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security says there could be twice as many migrants crossing the southern border this year, as smugglers continue to guide families across the Rio Grande and thousands make the journey north from Honduras and Guatemala. 

DHS figures suggest crossings could double from 400,000 last year to up to 800,000 by the end of 2021 - even after Biden said last Thursday that the situation was 'normal' and 'happens every year'. 

DHS expects approximately 500,000 to 800,000 migrants to arrive as part of a family group during the 2021 fiscal year that ends in September, according to a data analysis by The Washington Post

That could be double over fiscal year 2020 when 458,088 people were encountered on southern border, according to US Customs and Border Patrol data.

Additionally, internal administration leaked to Axios show unaccompanied minor apprehensions are expected to surge as high as 26,000 in September. 

Migrants cross the Rio Bravo river to El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 30

Migrants cross the Rio Bravo river to El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 30 

A group of migrants are processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after arriving from Mexico on March 30, 2021 in Roma, Texas. The group, made up of individuals from mostly Central American countries, turned themselves into the Border Patrol after smugglers brought them across the Rio Grande. Members of the group are seeking asylum in the U.S

A group of migrants are processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after arriving from Mexico on March 30, 2021 in Roma, Texas. The group, made up of individuals from mostly Central American countries, turned themselves into the Border Patrol after smugglers brought them across the Rio Grande. Members of the group are seeking asylum in the U.S 

A father and son from Honduras stand with a group of migrants as they are processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after arriving from Mexico

A father and son from Honduras stand with a group of migrants as they are processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after arriving from Mexico 

A migrant from Guatemala holding a child arrives in the U.S., crossing the Rio Grande in a raft piloted by smugglers on March 30

A migrant from Guatemala holding a child arrives in the U.S., crossing the Rio Grande in a raft piloted by smugglers on March 30

The group made up of individuals from Central American countries turned themselves into the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing as they seek asylum in the United States

The group made up of individuals from Central American countries turned themselves into the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing as they seek asylum in the United States

This month, approximately 16,000 minors crossed the border, which was a record high   A group of migrants is processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after arriving from Mexico on March 30, 2021 in Roma, Texas

This month, approximately 16,000 minors crossed the border, which was a record high   A group of migrants is processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after arriving from Mexico on March 30, 2021 in Roma, Texas 

This month, approximately 16,000 minors crossed the border, which was a record high.

There were 5,767 children in Customs and Border Protection custody on Sunday, up from 5,495 children on Thursday, according to CBP data. In June 2019, when Donald Trump was president, the highest number of unaccompanied minors in custody was around 2,600, according to CBP data.

Additionally, there are 11,886 children in the custody of Health and Human Services. 

Combining the HHS and CBP figures, the Biden administration has more than 17,500 children in custody.

To compare, in May 2019 when Trump was president and his border crisis was at its height, 11,475 unaccompanied kids were arrested by border patrol agents. 

In June 2014, during the peak surge of children at the border, 10,620 unaccompanied children were arrested by US Border Patrol. 

White House officials, in the meantime, have downplayed Kamala Harris' role in border policy, saying the vice president will be using 'diplomacy' with South and Central American countries to try and find the 'root cause' of the crisis that has seen a surge in migrant children being taken into Border Patrol custody.    

Psaki issued what she called a 'clarification' on Harris' role on Monday, saying there was 'confusion' on what the vice president was tasked to do. 

'The Vice President of the United States will be helping lead that effort - specifically, the root causes, not the border. There is some confusion over that,' she said at her press briefing.

SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS: The movement of migrants from the south towards Mexico is a concern for the administration

SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS: The movement of migrants from the south towards Mexico is a concern for the administration

And Symone Sanders, a spokesperson for Harris, told reporters last week that 'the vice president is not doing the border' but 'dealing with the root causes of migration.' 

She added that President Biden tasked Harris 'with taking on those diplomatic efforts.' 

Harris has not announced a trip to the border and has not given a public press interview about her new role. 

White House officials are downplaying Kamala Harris' first major public charge of the administration as PR crisis on the border grows for President Joe Biden White House

White House officials are downplaying Kamala Harris' first major public charge of the administration as PR crisis on the border grows for President Joe Biden White House

Her office said she has been briefed 'extensively' on the northern triangle and Latin America situation and will soon speak with leaders in that region.

But she will not attend a bipartisan briefing on the border that the administration is hosting Wednesday for House lawmakers. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will led the virtual briefing, CNN reported, and the vice president will not be a part of it.  

The clarification on her role comes after President Joe Biden announced Harris would lead the administration's effort with Mexico and the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to stem the 'serious spike' in immigration.

'I've asked her, the VP today because she's most qualified person to do it to lead our efforts with Mexico and the northern triangle and the countries that need help in stemming the movement of so many folks stemming migration to our southern border,' he said in his announcement last week.

'She's leading the effort. The best thing to do is put someone when he or she speaks, they don't have to wonder about is that where the president is. She speaks for me,' he said of his vice president. 'She knows what she's doing.'

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