Children were sleeping on cots at a US Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Texas. Some were playing soccer, and a teenage girl also detained there was calling her family to tell them she was alive.
Over 100 migrant children were being held in the West Texas facility when reporters were allowed in Wednesday. The facility has been under scrutiny after a team of lawyers, doctors and advocates said last week that migrant children were held under poor health and hygiene conditions at multiple US Customs and Border Protection facilities in Texas, including the one in Clint.
CBP spokesman Roger Maier said the agency believed it was important to let media see the facility on the outskirts of El Paso and see “what is actually happening here.”
“By opening the doors and letting you see it, we think it’s an important part to provide some balance to the story that is being told without our voice,” Maier said.
CNN and other media outlets toured the facility on Wednesday but were barred from taking any pictures or video.
The facility, which is meant to hold 106 people, is currently holding 117 migrant youths, CBP officials said. The youngest children in the facility were a 1-year-old, who has been traveling with a 17-year-old and a 2-year-old unaccompanied minor.
Most of the children were being kept inside rooms with metal doors, a large glass window and no windows to the outside. Some were sleeping or lying on orange coats and blue mattresses on the floor. Some girls were passing the time braiding one anther’s hair and a group of boys were playing soccer.
A teen girl was quarantined in a separate cell, where a sign posted outside indicated that she may have the flu. CBP agents said children in the facility have been treated for chicken pox, rabies, lice and scarlet fever.
Reporters were taken to a galley area with pallets of food, including cups of noodles and drinks. They were also shown a storage area with boxes of toothbrushes, toothpaste and clothing. They also spotted a group of five children playing soccer.
The children are allowed to shower every two days in a trailer equipped with shower stalls, CBP agents said.
While CNN was told by a CBP official at the Clint facility the environment was the same on Wednesday as it was last week when legal monitors visited, a CBP source with firsthand knowledge of the facility said, “Typical. The agency prepped for you guys.” The source added, “It’s a never-ending cat and mouse game.”
Children were moved after monitors’ warnings
Advocates have said conditions in the facilities were dangerous and migrant children were held up to 26 days in detention.
Officials have conceded that children should not be held in CBP custody, saying that the agency’s facilities were designed decades ago to largely accommodate single adults for a short period of time. But the crush of migrants at the southern border has strained the agency’s resources.
Unaccompanied children are intended to be transferred to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for their care while placing them with a sponsor in the United States.
Following the allegations, HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said that nearly 250 children were being moved out of the facility and were expected to be under the agency’s care by Tuesday.
She acknowledged that unaccompanied migrant children are “waiting too long in CBP facilities that are not designed to care for children,” a result, she said, of the “unprecedented” number of children arriving.
Then over 100 children were moved into the Clint facility on Tuesday, a CBP official told CNN.
As of June 10, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been transferred from the Department of Homeland Security to HHS – a 60% increase over last year, HHS says.
CNN’s Kevin Conlon contributed to this report.