Federal officials release images from inside migrant processing facilities in Texas

Border Report

DONNA, Texas (Border Report) — A day after a South Texas congressman leaked photos from inside a controversial migrant processing facility run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency on Tuesday morning released its own photos and video imagery from inside the tent facility in Donna, Texas.

Also Tuesday, CBP officials released a video from a migrant processing facility in El Paso, Texas, issuing a statement that the agency remains committed to transparency.

“CBP continues to transfer unaccompanied minors to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as quickly and efficiently as possible after they are apprehended on the Southwest Border. In order to protect the health and safety of our workforce and those in our care we continue to discourage external visitors in our facilities; however, CBP is working to balance the need for public transparency and accountability,” the statement read.

Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez, who leads the El Paso Sector, said the recent surge of unaccompanied children in addition to family units is beginning to impact capacity.

“We are working closely with Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for the placement of children as CBP’s ability to move children out of its care is directly tied to available space at HHS ORR,” Chavez said in a statement. “We are also in close coordination with our local and county stakeholders; as well as our local non-governmental organization shelter network to assist with these increased family unit encounters.”  

The video of the Donna facility shows officials doing a health assessment and intake of arriving migrants, most appearing to be teenage youth. They are temperature-checked, their scalp is checked for lice and their hands are thoroughly checked just moments after arriving in white buses with dark tinted windows.

The migrants are separated in pods depending upon gender and youth and the pods are packed with migrants standing shoulder-to-shoulder. They are seen in line receiving food and healthy fruit as well as milk. Younger children are seen in separate areas with toys and gates to keep them corralled. There is a recreation area as well as shower facilities.

All of the migrants are masked and appear to be practicing social distancing when in line, but not when in their pods.

They are seen lying on cots together on the cement floor under mylar blankets and it’s noisy.

Photos released on Tuesday from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show DHS officials assisting migrants at the migrant processing facility in Donna, Texas, on Feb. 25 and March 17. (Courtesy Photos)

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, released photos to Border Report on Monday that showed the migrant one atop each other. He told Border Report he did so to make the public aware of what is happening inside the facility, which media have not been permitted to tour. Cuellar clarified that he has not been inside the Donna facility, located about four miles north of the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge.

“It’s the same thing I did in 2014. When I feel that the administration should be more transparent,” said Cuellar who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.

“People need to know about the circumstances that the kids are being put in. I’m not blaming any of the personnel for doing this. That’s what they’re dealing with under the pandemic. But even if there was no pandemic it’s pretty crowded,” Cuellar said.

Even if there was no pandemic it’s pretty crowded.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX

The Donna facility, which was built in early February as a surge of migrants began coming across into South Texas, has been the subject of scrutiny for reports that minors are being held upwards of 10 days — well past the legal limit of a 72-hour-hold on them before they are released into the care of officials with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Reportedly thousands of migrants are being processed inside this tent facility built in February by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in rural Donna, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Border Patrol agents have begun releasing some migrants from the field without a formal immigration court document known as a Notice To Appear, including 150 who were released this weekend, Cuellar said. This has caused confusion among migrants and their attorneys.

Border Report is following this story. Please look for updates soon.