DHS Data Shows Minors Crossing Border At Faster Pace As TV Crew Tours Texas Shelter

Mar 24, 2021
Originally published on March 24, 2021 7:54 pm

Updated March 24, 2021 at 8:54 PM ET

As of Wednesday, more than 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children and teens are in Customs and Border Protection custody, according to Department of Homeland Security data viewed by NPR. The data also shows an average of 590 teens and children arriving across the border each day over the last three weeks, with an increased pace in the last week. And thousands of children — 3,300 — have stayed in the CBP facilities for more than the 72-hour benchmark, with the children staying an average of 131 hours.

There has been no media access inside the warehouse-like facilities on the border set up for adults and run by CBP where hundreds of minors have been held for more than 10 days, longer than the 72 hours allowed by law.

A CBP official told NPR that it does not provide daily numbers, which are considered "operationally sensitive" because they fluctuate.

The official said Border Patrol stations are not meant to hold children long-term and that children are immediately put at the front of line for processing.

"CBP works closely with [Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement], and everybody's focus is on moving [unaccompanied children] through as quickly as we can" the official said in a statement. "Even a few hours in custody is more than we want for children that Border Patrol apprehends at the border."

A team of White House officials did allow very limited media access on Wednesday to one Texas shelter where the Department of Health and Human Services is housing teenagers who crossed the border without their parents.

A network TV crew was allowed into the facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which was opened last month to house 700 unaccompanied teenagers, and those images and reporting are being shared with other outlets. The White House officials were also joined by some members of Congress on the trip.

While there have been concerns about the administration reopening the Carrizo Springs shelter, it isn't the source of as many concerns as those on the border that resemble warehouses and have been overcrowded. The HHS shelter is set up for children, with bunk beds, educational programs, recreation and a medical clinic.

NBC News Correspondent Gabe Gutierrez shared details from inside the facility, where he reports there are currently 766 minors housed, all males between the ages of 13 and 17. The facility has a capacity of 952, with the daily population fluctuating and some beds reserved for isolation if a child tests positive for COVID-19.

Children are given clothing and hygiene kits in a duffel bag as they enter, and they are tested for the coronavirus. NBC reported that 108 of the children currently in the facility (14%) tested positive as they entered and were isolated in dormitories with negative air pressure systems. The state of Texas announced that 261 children in Texas migrant facilities have tested positive since March 5, according to Houston Public Media.

Children were observed by the NBC crew playing soccer and receiving virtual physical education instruction at the HHS facility. They are also offered legal services virtually.

The Biden administration has denied journalists access to the CBP detention areas, but did release photos and video of two South Texas facilities being used to process children and families following concerns raised by Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas about young migrants being crammed into "pods" divided only by plastic tarps.

This March 20 photo provided by the Office of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, shows detainees in a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas. President Biden's administration faces mounting criticism for refusing to allow outside observers into facilities where it is detaining thousands of immigrant children.
Courtesy of the Office of Rep. Henry Cuellar via AP

He also raised concerns about seeing "terrible conditions for the children" at one of the facilities in Donna, Texas.

The Biden administration is under increasing pressure to address the challenges at the border. The new administration largely blamed the Trump administration for handing over a broken system and describe steps they've taken to accept the new influx of unaccompanied minors into the country and end controversial programs that require migrants to remain in Mexico as "a moral imperative."

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