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New York Times

“No place for children”: Inside a tent camp that accommodates thousands of immigrant children

Immigrant children and families sleep side by side on mats at the Texas border facility, which is currently designed for 250 people, which accommodates more than 4,100 people. The Biden administration is struggling to absorb thousands of new arrivals on the southwestern border. Older siblings were caring for young children in a playpen at a border processing facility in Donna, Texas. On Tuesday, a small group of reporters were allowed to enter the country for the first time to observe the camp situation. I was overwhelmed by the increasing numbers in the last few weeks. “As I have repeatedly said, border guard facilities are not a place for children,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorcas said in a statement. He said the border guards “work 24 hours a day to move migrant children from overcrowded border facilities like Donna to government shelters before placing them with their families and other sponsors. “. Signing up for a morning newsletter from Oscar Escamilla of the New York Times, acting executive officer of the U.S. Border Guard in Rio Grande Valley, said, “For everyone, if there is room to move immigrant children to government shelters. That would be good. ” .. “I’m a border guard agent. I didn’t sign up for this,” Escamilla said, looking at many of the children under the age of 12 in the facility. He said the youngest children were sleeping in the playpen, rather than the larger pods stretched out on the mats. “These pods are so crowded that these little kids will get hurt and will not be able to put them in those pods,” he said. In one case, a 17-year-old immigrant was taking care of a newborn baby. Donna’s tent structure was built to help relieve pressure on US Border Guard stations that must be dealt with before immigrants are released or transferred to other facilities. However, the Associated Press reporter and camera crew were allowed to enter on Tuesday, drawing a tough picture of what is likely to get worse during a showless surge. Hundreds of children packed in a single pod for less than 50 people lie shoulder-to-shoulder in a space of 3,200 square feet, covered by a crumpled aluminum blanket. I did. Many of the pods had more than 500 children. In the playpen, a 3-year-old girl was taken care of by her brother. 11. Approximately 3,300 migrants housed in the soft-side structure are children who have crossed the border in recent months without parents or other guardians. .. Most people arrive with the name and phone number of the family they want to join, but US authorities must process them at the border before sending them to a government shelter. Movements from the border have not kept pace with arrivals, with children entering the country at a rate of 500 per day, but two shelters this week said they were unprecedented recently. In February alone, more than 9,400 minors, from infants to teens, arrived without parents, almost triple the number of the same period last year. The Byden administration has set up temporary facilities for young immigrants in the San Diego and Dallas Convention Centers, the San Antonio Coliseum and Expo Center, the former oil camp in Midland, Texas, and Fort Bliss, Texas. However, unlike sites managed by border guards, the rapid transfer of minors to shelters that are supposed to come with educational programs and recreational spaces is still unsuccessful. According to government documents, more than 4,000 minors were detained in such detention facilities for up to 72 hours, as permitted by federal law. According to internal documents, the United States has more than 17,600 beds for minors in tent camps, emergency facilities, and shelters. The government predicts that more than 35,500 beds will be needed by the end of May. Additional facilities to protect minors are being scouted, including the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dallas, the Convention Center in Orange County, Florida, and the Church Hall in Houston. After the coronavirus pandemic limits the number of children that can be accommodated, shelter systems, which typically have a capacity of 14,000 beds, are struggling to expand. According to documents obtained by the New York Times, the government releases about 250 minors a day to sponsors, organizations and nursing homes. Currently, government shelters have more than 12,000 immigrant children. An additional 5,160 people are stuck in a border guard processing facility like Donna. This is because there are not enough vacant beds to accommodate everything and children already in larger shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services are not released fast enough to vacate the room. .. Hundreds of people cross the border every day. After parents provide dozens of pages of documents and the children are screened to ensure they are not trafficked and safe, they are released from government control. “There is a pull factor. They know we will release them,” Escamilla told Donna’s reporters. “They now know that there is nothing to stop them. They will continue to come because we are not going to deport them to their country.” He says 250-300 daily. One child said he would enter the Donna facility — and far fewer children departed. The remaining migrants in the camp (a total of about 700) are adults and children traveling together as a family. According to Escamilla, children have not been tested for coronavirus by border guards unless they have symptoms. 14% of the children added that they were positive when they were later transferred to shelters. Built in February, Donna’s tent facility is the largest emergency treatment center on the border. Escamilla said it cost $ 16 million a month to carry out, excluding medical and personnel contracts. The nurse was at hand to perform a physical and mental health assessment. They checked the children for lice, scabies, and fever and asked if they had suicidal ideation. The children wore bracelets with barcodes to track the time they took a shower and their medical condition. As part of the process, children over the age of 14 were fingerprinted. Border guard agents have notified them to appear in courts subject to deportation or asylum. According to Escamilla, more than 2,000 children have been detained for more than 72 hours in violation of the law. On average, minors spent 133 hours in the facility before being transferred to shelters, he said. Among them, 39 were there for at least 15 days. One child was in the tent center for 20 days. Finding the right housing was also a challenge for the previous administration. The Obama administration struggled to accommodate thousands of children and families who began crossing the border in 2013, and the Trump administration handled families under the elevated roads, a filthy and overcrowded facility in Clint, Texas. He was criticized for placing immigrant children in Texas. Amy Cohen, a psychiatrist who works with immigrant children and families, said Donna’s photographs were reminiscent of Clint’s situation and were widely criticized by doctors and child welfare groups. “This situation is the exact opposite of the well-being of children, especially vulnerable minors,” said Cohen, who runs an organization called Every Last One that helps immigrants. This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company