As attention to the issue of child separation reaches a new high on Monday, the Trump administration is trying to defend what critics call “cruel” and “immoral” policy. It’s even releasing photos and video of the facilities where children separated from their parents are being held — but far from tamping down criticism, it’s only increasing critics’ horror.
When Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) visited a detention center for unaccompanied immigrant children two weeks ago in McAllen, Texas, what he saw shocked him. There were “hundreds of children locked up in cages there at that facility,” he told CNN, adding that the “cages [were] made out of fencing and then wire and nets stretched across the top of them so people can’t climb out of them.”
Since that interview, there’s been pushback from both the administration and conservative reporters, who argue that conditions aren’t nearly as dire as Merkley and others have described. “Those children are being well taken care of,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions when asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt about the treatment of migrant children separated from their parents.
Hey, Breitbart's story says the kids are in "chain-link partitions," not "cages" https://t.co/RF7uBFmN6Q— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) June 17, 2018
In what appears to be a public relations effort to counter some of the damning descriptions of its detention centers, US Customs and Border Protection is now giving the broader public the opportunity to see the conditions for themselves, by releasing video and photos of the McAllen location. The Department of Health and Human Services has also shared images of a shelter that unaccompanied immigrant children are sent to in Brownsville, Texas, after they leave the border patrol center.
Rather than prove the administration’s point, the images of the McAllen facility only serve to further illustrate the horrific nature of its practices, showing kids held in metal enclosures sprawled atop mattresses laid on a concrete floor, with little around them except flimsy space blankets. “More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility that’s divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children,” the Associated Press reported, following a Sunday visit.
BREAKING: Border Patrol @CBP just gave us this video of the detention facility we toured yesterday in McAllen, Texas. We weren't allowed to bring in cameras, or interview anyone. To be clear: this is government handout video. pic.twitter.com/Zjy80qIZFZ— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) June 18, 2018
These images were just released by border patrol @CBP showing the McAllen, Texas detention facility that we were allowed to tour today. For now, we can only rely on what they give us. They will not allow us inside to film on our own. Why? “Privacy”; they don’t want faces shown pic.twitter.com/laZAyEHwij— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) June 17, 2018
As noted by the Los Angeles Times, the law currently requires any unaccompanied youth to be transferred from the border patrol detention center to HHS within 72 hours. People stay an average of roughly 50 hours at the McAllen center, the LA Times reports.
Handout images from HHS also capture the inside of Casa Padre, the largest government-contracted migrant youth shelter, located in Brownsville, Texas, in a former Walmart Supercenter. This shelter is one of the places where unaccompanied immigrant children are sent after they depart the border patrol detention facility. Boys who are placed in the shelter stay for 49 days, on average, according to a Washington Post report.
“We’re trying to do the best that we can taking care of these children. Our goal ultimately is to reunite kids with their families,” Juan Sanchez, the CEO of Southwest Key, a nonprofit that runs the Brownsville site under government contract, told the Washington Post. “We’re not a detention center. … What we operate are shelters that take care of kids. It’s a big, big difference.”
The photos of the shelter show rooms holding multiple twin beds, a cafeteria, and walls bearing murals of former President Barack Obama as well as President Donald Trump. More than 1,400 immigrant boys are being housed in the Brownsville facility, including dozens who were recently separated from their families, per the Post.
The Trump administration has faced immense backlash over its “zero-tolerance” policy, which prosecutes any adults that come into the US illegally as criminals, forcing the separation of parents who are arrested and their children, who are put into federal custody.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, almost 2,000 kids were taken from their parents in the span of six weeks this past spring. But even these numbers are quickly becoming dwarfed. On Monday morning, an anonymous administration official told the Washington Examiner that more than 11,500 children were being held as of Friday. The increased attention on the policy has caused a massive uproar over how fundamentally cruel it is.
A glimpse into the secretive detention sites and shelters where families and children are housed does little to soften this perception.