An old Texas warehouse turned immigrant detention center is fitted with metal cages, temporarily home to more than 1,100 people at any given time – including children.
During a tour of the facility for members of the press, who were not allowed to take photos or interview the detainees, journalists noted 20 children in one of the cages.
According to the Associated Press, one teenager held in the cage told an immigration advocate that she had been caring for a two-year-old who had been separated from her aunt. The girl said she had taught others confined behind the chain link barriers to change the little girl’s diapers.
Stories have spread of children being torn from their parents’ arms, and parents not being able to find where their kids have gone. A group of congressional lawmakers visited the same facility Sunday and were set to visit a longer-term shelter holding around 1,500 children — many of whom were separated from their parents.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) was denied access to a children’s shelter earlier this month, said it doesn’t matter how nice the accommodations might be because “those kids inside who have been separated from their parents are already being traumatized.”
Agents running the holding facility — generally known as “Ursula” for the name of the street it’s on — said everyone detained is given adequate food, access to showers and laundered clothes, and medical care. People are supposed to move through the facility quickly. Under U.S. law, children are required to be turned over within three days to shelters funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told the AP she had witnessed detention center officials scold a group of 5-year-olds for playing around in their cage – a cage that has no toys or books, she said.
“The government is literally taking kids away from their parents and leaving them in inappropriate conditions,” Brane said. “If a parent left a child in a cage with no supervision with other 5-year-olds, they’d be held accountable.”