THE Biden administration for the first time allowed journalists inside its main border detention facility for migrant children on Tuesday, after weeks of shutting the media out.
The tour of the facility in Donna, Texas, revealed severely overcrowded conditions where more than 4,100 people, including 3,400 unaccompanied children, were crammed into an area intended for 250.
The youngest of the detainees are held in a large play pen with mats on the floor for sleeping, because the temporary facility is now at 1,700 percent capacity and all dormitories are full.
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) guards say around 14 percent – or one in seven – of the children have tested positive for COVID-19.
Dozens are also currently being treated for lice as officials fear an outbreak.
More than two thousands of them have already overstayed the 72-hour legal limit on how long a child can be held by CBP, and at least 39 have been stuck in the cramped tent for 15 days or more.
There were 5,767 children in CBP custody overall as of Sunday.
In the Donna facility, children were being housed by the hundreds in eight “pods” formed by plastic dividers, each about 3,200 square feet (297 square meters) in size.
Many of the pods had more than 500 children in them.
Oscar Escamilla, acting executive officer of the U.S. Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, said children are arriving at the facility in far greater numbers than those who leave.
Escamilla estimated between 250 to 300 kids enter the facility daily, with only a fraction of that number heading in the opposite direction.
The youngest children — among them, 3-year-old girl being cared for by her 11-year-old brother and a newborn with a 17-year-old mother — are kept out of the pods and sleep in a playpen area.
With thousands of children and families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks and packing facilities, President Joe Biden has been under pressure to bring more transparency to the process.
On Tuesday, CBP allowed journalists from the Associated Press and a news crew from CBS to tour the facility in Donna, which made headlines earlier this month when leaked photos showed the "terrible" living conditions for children.
The facility was also visited by GOP Senator Ted Cruz and 18 other Republicans over the weekend, who called the conditions "inhumane".
"Joe Biden has built more cages, the cages are bigger and more full," Cruz said on Friday.
"Many Democrats like to pretend their open border policies are somehow humane — there is nothing humane about what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are doing at the border."
Yesterday, the media watched children being processed as they entered the facility.
The young migrants 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 Associated Press reported.
The children, may of whom had made long and treacherous journeys to the border, were also screened for scabies, fever and various other ailments.
Both AP and CBS reported that no COVID-19 test was administered unless the child exhibited symptoms of the virus.
Nurses were also on site to conduct psychological tests on the children, asking them if they had suicidal thoughts.
Shoelaces were removed from all of their shoes to avoid harm to anyone.
The children were then led down a green turf hall to a large intake room.
Those 14 and older were fingerprinted and had their photo taken; younger children did not.
They went 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 call that person.
Children were then issued bracelets with a barcode that shows a history of when they showered and any medical conditions.
The Biden administration has continued expelling adults who try to cross the border under a coronavirus-related public health declaration enacted by former President Donald Trump.
Biden also has tried to expel most families traveling together, but changes in Mexican law have forced agents to release many parents and children into the U.S.
The president has declined to resume the Trump-era practice of expelling unaccompanied immigrant children.
Several hundred kids and teenagers are crossing the border daily, most fleeing violence, poverty or the effects of natural disasters in Central America.
In some cases, parents refused entry into the U.S. have sent their children across the border alone, hoping they will eventually be placed with relatives.
More than 16,500 unaccompanied migrant children were in federal custody as of last week.
More than 11,500 of those children were being housed in shelters and emergency housing sites, in addition to the 5,700 stranded in overcrowded CBP facilities.
In his first solo press conference last week, Biden called the conditions "unacceptable" and vowed to address to overcrowded conditions
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