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This Is the Prison-Like Border Facility Holding Migrant Children

Over a thousand minors are eating in shifts inside a former Walmart

U.S. Border Patrol agents take into custody a father and son from Honduras near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 near Mission, Texas. The asylum seekers were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation.

U.S. Border Patrol agents take into custody a father and son from Honduras near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12th, 2018 near Mission, Texas.

John Moore/Getty Images

In May, the Trump administration instituted zero-tolerance policy that called for all immigrants crossing the border illegally to be prosecuted. Because minors cannot be held in criminal custody, close to 500 children have been separated from their parents since the policy was enacted. Many of these children are infants. On Wednesday, CNN reported the story of a woman from Honduras whose daughter was taken from her as she was breastfeeding. When the mother resisted, she was put in handcuffs.

It’s been difficult to understand what kind of care these children are receiving as their parents await prosecution. Earlier this month, Jeff Merkley (D-OR) traveled to Brownsville, Texas, where he attempted to enter a shelter called Casa Padre, which used to be a Walmart and is now being used to house migrant children. Merkley was turned away by Homeland Security, and the police eventually arrived to tell him he didn’t have permission to even speak about the facility.

On Wednesday, journalists were allowed to visit Casa Padre for the first time. MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff wrote about the hour and a half he spent inside the building, which houses around 1,500 boys between the ages of 10 and 17. He likened to a prison. “I have been inside federal prisons. I have been inside county jails. I’ve been inside detention centers of all kinds and that’s effectively what this is,” Soboroff said Thursday morning on the Today show. “These kids are incarcerated,” he tweeted. “They’re in custody.”

Though cameras were not allowed inside Casa Padre, Homeland Security released some images to journalists. One of the most frightening shows a mural of a grinning Donald Trump. Next to the president’s face is a quote, which appears in both English and Spanish: “Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”

Trump tweeted the quote in 2014, but it originally appeared in his book The Art of the Deal, where it was used to describe a real estate deal at Central Park South.

Soboroff notes that this is only the first of several presidential murals, which are “everywhere.”

Before the Trump administration instituted its zero-tolerance policy, Casa Padre housed unaccompanied minors who crossed the border on their own. Now that children are being separated from their families, the facility has become overcrowded. Each room is supposed to house four children, but Soboroff notes that most sleep five. Children are forced to stay indoors 22 hours a day. They get one hour of structured outdoor time and one hour of free outdoor time a day. For their meals, children are called to eat “hundreds at a time” on rotating shifts. Soboroff notes that the meal line is what most reminds him of a prison. “Moments after we walked in a shelter employee asked us to smile at hundreds of detained migrant kids in line for a meal because ‘they feel like animals in a cage being looked at,'” he tweeted.

Because of the overcrowding crisis, the Trump administration on Wednesday announced that it is considering building a “tent city” to house migrant children on a military base. Despite the prison-like conditions of Casa Padre, it is a licensed child care facility run by a nonprofit staffed with trained professionals. The president of the nonprofit told Soboroff that the tent city the Trump administration has proposed would not have to be licensed.

The glimpse inside Casa Padre raises questions about the kind of care children younger than 10 are receiving. What is the status of the Honduran infant who was ripped from her mother while breastfeeding?

The Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration has ostensibly been in the name of curbing crime in the United States. Soboroff tweeted that officials at Casa Padre said the facility has never housed a member of MS-13. Meanwhile, the number of migrants living in Germany reached a record high last month, while the nation’s crime is at a 30-year low.

In This Article: Immigration

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