In Texas Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for people trying to enter the US, Border Patrol officials argue that they have to crack down on migrants and separate adults from children as a deterrent to others.
When you exempt a group of people from the law that creates a draw, said Manuel Padilla, the Border Patrols chief agent here. That creates the trends right here.
Agents running the holding facility generally known as Ursula for the name of the street its 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 US law, children are required to be turned over within three days to shelters funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Padilla said agents in the Rio Grande Valley have allowed families with children under the age of five to stay together in most cases.
An advocate who spent several hours in the facility on Friday said she was deeply troubled by what she found. Michelle Brane, the director of migrant rights at the Womens Refugee Commission, met a 16-year-old girl who had been taking care of a young girl for three days. The teen and others in their cage thought the girl was two years old.
She had to teach other kids in the cell to change her diaper, Brane said.
Brane said that after an attorney started to ask questions, agents found the girls aunt and reunited them. It turned out that the girl was actually four. Part of the problem was that she did not speak Spanish but Kiche, a language indigenous to Guatemala.
She was so traumatized that she wasnt talking, Brane said. She was just curled up in a little ball.
Brane said she also saw officials at the facility scold a group of five-year-olds for playing around in their cage, telling them to settle down. There are no toys or books. But one boy nearby wasnt playing with the rest. According to Brane, he was quiet, clutching a piece of paper that was a photocopy of his mothers ID card.
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 five-year-olds, theyd be held accountable.