Thousands of immigrant children entering US illegally held in crowded, concrete cells

By Astrid Galvan, Associated Press

Published: Wed, June 18, 2014, 2:50 p.m. MDT

 Detainees color and draw at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas. CPB provided media tours Wednesday of two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz. that have been central to processing the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1.

Detainees color and draw at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas. CPB provided media tours Wednesday of two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz. that have been central to processing the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1.

(Eric Gay, Pool, Associated Press)

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Children's faces pressed against glass. Hundreds of young boys and girls covered with aluminum foil-like blankets next to chain-link fences. The pungent odor that comes with keeping dirty travelers in close quarters.

These were the sights from a Wednesday tour of a crowded Border Patrol station in South Texas where thousands of immigrants are being held before they are transferred to other shelters around the country.

It was the first time the media was given access to the facility since President Barack Obama called the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally this budget year an "urgent humanitarian situation."

Border Patrol stations like the one in Brownsville were not meant for long-term custody. Immigrants are supposed to wait there until they are processed and taken to detention centers. But the surge in children arriving without their parents has overwhelmed the U.S. government.

The surge, which has been building for three years, comes amid a steep overall increase in immigrant arrests in southernmost Texas.

The children are mostly from Central America. They pose a particular challenge because the law requires Customs and Border Protection to transfer them to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. That agency's network of some 100 shelters around the country has been over capacity for months and is now caring for more than 7,600 children.

Children began backing up in already overcrowded Border Patrol stations. Eventually, the Border Patrol began flying them to Arizona, where it set up a massive processing center in the border city of Nogales. Reporters in Arizona were also given a tour of the facility in Nogales. From there, they are sent to private shelters or temporary housing at barracks on military bases in California, Texas and Oklahoma.

But the children at Fort Brown remain in the custody of an agency ill-equipped to care for them. On Wednesday, dozens of young boys were divided from dozens of young girls. Mothers with children still younger were in another cell.

Happier faces could be found in a side yard just outside the station. There, young children colored pictures under a camouflage tent.

A group of about a dozen girls of perhaps 5 or 6 sat under another tent outside the shower trailer, dark hair wet and shiny. Women wearing blue gloves combed each girl's hair. Tables held stacks of clean bluejeans, T-shirts and toiletries.

Deeper into the yard, teen girls kicked a soccer ball and tossed a football with workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In Nogales, Arizona, girls playing soccer with two male border agents shrieked when their ball crossed over the chain link fence and away from the small recreational area covered by a white tent. Others playing basketball cheered on their teammates.

But inside, the approximately 1,000 children in the clean, 120,000-square-foot warehouse were silent.

In a roomy area with teenage boys, a large, high-definition TV playing the World Cup went largely ignored.

A small group of boys in that fenced-in area played soccer. But most lay on tiny mattresses and covered themselves with thin, heat-reflective blankets that look like aluminum foil.

Fifteen-feet-high chain link fences topped with barbed wire separate the children by age and gender.

Federal agents said they could not provide an estimate of the number of minors at the facility because the figure is fluid as children transition in and out.

Authorities in Nogales have struggled to adjust to their new role as temporary caretakers.

For example, it took a few days of children rejecting breakfast burritos before agents learned that Central Americans aren't accustomed to flour tortillas. FEMA renegotiated its contract with a food vendor to begin receiving corn tortillas instead.

The children are fed three times a day and take turns by group to use the 200-seat dining area.

Galvin reported from Nogales, Arizona.

1. techpubs
Sioux City, IA,
June 18, 2014

This would not be a problem if after being reunited with family members in the US they were deported along with their family members.
The other solution would be to reunite them with family members in their native country and subtract the costs from the foreign aid sent to that country.
We need to prosecute and fine those who hire illegal aliens and repatriate all illegal aliens as soon as they are apprehended while subtracting the costs incurred from their natives country's foreign aid.

2. DN Subscriber
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
June 18, 2014

Sorry, kids. No sympathy here.

You should not have been allowed to cross the border at all. If you got across, you should have been herded back across again, immediately.

These kids are to be pitied, for they are pawns being used to infiltrate our country by taking advantage of the intolerable lack of enforcement of our immigration laws by the politicized Obama Justice Department and Homeland Security.

The fact that they are able to repeat the false statement "I am fleeing gang violence in my country" to win asylum changes nothing. It is a lie, and rather than rewarding lawbreakers, they must be punished, and returned home.

Millions of unregistered Democrat voters are not welcome when they come here this way, regardless of what Obama has been signalling. Legal immigrants are welcome, and millions come here that way, disproving the lie that it is too hard to follow the law.

Either we have the rule of law, or we do not. Having kids in crowded jails may horrify some, but the specter of the collapse of the rule of law is even more horrifying to every American.

3. Aggie238
Logan, UT,
June 18, 2014

My, my, the Christian charity being manifest on this thread is staggering! Not. It's sure easy to say things like "Sorry, kids. No sympathy here." when it's not your child, isn't it?

That's not to say that our border security and immigration policy are not in dire need of a re-work, but these are kids, for crying out loud. It's not like a thinking person can actually hold them responsible for our problems with immigration or the violence and extreme poverty in their own country which forced them to flee in search of a better shot at life. But, I suppose, they will inevitably turn out to be evil Democrats, and therefore the old adage of "nits make lice" still holds true in some minds. I can't seem to remember where I have heard of that saying before...

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

4. stanfunky
Salt Lake City, UT,
June 18, 2014

Aggie238, if their parents didn't drag them across an international border, they wouldn't be in this mess. Who endangers their children by doing such things? The parents are at fault, more than anyone, and the kids should return with the folks, not get a free pass to stay in our country. NO OTHER COUNTRY ON EARTH allows this, most throw the kids in prisons far worse than this detention facility we are using!

5. Schnee
Salt Lake City, UT,
June 18, 2014

@DN Subscriber
" intolerable lack of enforcement of our immigration laws "

By the enforcement agents that one might note rounded up the kids mentioned in this article?