KEY POINTS

  • Migrant children should not be detained for over three days in CBP facilities
  • But some children were staying for weeks at the Texas facility
  • Hundreds of children enter the facility each day

Amid a surge in migrants crossing into the United States in the recent weeks, many of the Customs and Border Protection detention facilities are facing unprecedented overcrowding.

The Biden administration, on Tuesday, allowed media persons inside a CBP facility in the city of Donna in Texas and the situation was grim there.

Thousands of migrants, many of them children, were living in cramped spaces at the Donna facility in the Rio Grande Valley. The facility, with a capacity of 250, was housing 4,000 people and more than 3,000 of them were children. Most of these children were detained while trying to cross the border alone, while the rest of them came with their families, the Associated Press reported.

The Border Patrol can keep the children in their custody only for a maximum of three days, after that they should be transferred to longer-term care facilities run by the Health and Human Services Department. But these children are stuck at the Donna facility due to lack of space at HHS facilities.

The detention center had eight 3,200-square-feet areas divided by plastic walls, most of them held about 500 children each.

There were over 2,000 children detained at the facility for more than three days and almost 40 of them were staying there for more than two weeks. Hundreds of children enter the Donna facility every day, much less than the number of those who leave. This difference in the numbers makes the facility more crowded. 

After bringing the children to the facility, the staff members will take them to a room for a lice inspection and a medical check-up. COVID-19 tests were done only if any child showed symptoms. They were also made to undergo psychological tests to make sure they were mentally healthy, NBC reported.

As of Monday, over 17,000 unaccompanied children are there in U.S. government custody. More than half of them are with the HHS and the rest of them are with the CBP. 

The HHS opened a facility at Fort Bliss in Texas on Tuesday to house 500 children. The department is working to increase its capacity to 13,500 beds, HHS spokesman Mark Weber told the AP.

Hundreds of migrant children and teenagers cross the U.S.-Mexico border every day, most of them from Central America, due to natural disasters, poverty or violence.

President Joe Biden has reversed some of the hardline immigration policies of his predecessor. In March, his administration decided to allow unaccompanied migrant children to enter the country. However, it will still expel families traveling together due to public health concerns.

On some occasions, parents send their children to cross the border on their own, hoping they will get to live with relatives in the end.

Two unaccompanied seven-year-old children wait in a Border Patrol van for processing after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas Two unaccompanied seven-year-old children wait in a Border Patrol van for processing after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas Photo: AFP / Ed JONES