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Cameras allowed in migrant detention facility for first time

Tour reveals hundreds of children in severely overcrowded conditions

DONNA, Texas (KYMA, KECY) - Journalists on Tuesday got their first look inside The Biden administration's main border detention facility for migrant children.

The tour of the Donna, Texas facility revealed thousands of immigrants, including unaccompanied children, crammed into a space designed to hold only 250. Nearly 2,000 have been held longer than the 72-hour legal limit.

"The entire facility is built for the children and families. currently, right now, at this facility we're holding over 4,100 detainees, of those 34-hundred are unaccompanied children. The rest are family members or family units." said Oscar Escamilla, the Acting Executive Officer for Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The U.S. Border Patrol has as many as 1,200 kids currently waiting for transfer into the custody of Health and Human Services (HHS).

CBP says the unaccompanied minors are flooding in much faster than officers can process them.

"For example, if I have 600 children between the ages of 13 and 17, but they only have space for 400 then I'm only able to turn 400. the rest I have to keep in my custody and that number just continues to grow by the day." said Escamilla.

Agents process between 300 and 400 new children a day into the Donna facility depending on the level of staffing. The facility has 500 agents dedicated to the facility, with between 80 and 90 working a shift.

Each person gets a medical and biometric screening on arrival. Children get bracelets with barcodes, which allow Border Patrol to track them. A second area in the facility is devoted to processing for HHS transfer. This is where asylum-seekers can also sign up for a court date.

Unaccompanied minors are allowed a phone call home every two days. Those between three and nine-years-old are held in a play area that doubles as sleeping quarters. Older children sleep in pods, on gym matts, using metallic blankets. The kids do get three hot meals a day, plus two snacks.

Border Patrol says many of the families currently in the facility will eventually be expelled under Title 42. That's the Trump administration policy that sends asylum seekers back to Mexico to await their court dates to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Agent Escamilla predicts, if the Biden Administration doesn't renew Title 42 next month, all the facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border will be as overcrowded as the Donna complex.

State & Regional News / Video
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Lisa Sturgis

Lisa Sturgis recently returned to KYMA as its Digital Content Director, but she and her family have a long history in the Desert Southwest.

Christian Galeno

Christian Galeno joined KYMA/KSWT in July of 2019 as a Weekend Anchor and multimedia journalist.


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