New photos from an overflow facility in Texas showed crowded conditions for migrants over the weekend amid an increase in the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border.
Photos that Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, shared with NBC News appeared to show migrants, including children, in groups separated by plastic at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Donna, Texas. The photos were provided to NBC News with faces of the migrants obscured.
Cuellar’s office said the photos were taken over the weekend but did not say who took them or who provided the images. An aide for Cuellar said each of the eight “pods” in the facility has a 260-person capacity, but as of Sunday one pod held more than 400 unaccompanied male minors.
Cuellar told Axios that the conditions are “terrible” for the migrant children and, though agents were “doing the best they can under the circumstances,” they are not equipped to care for children and need help from the Biden administration.
Officials with CBP and the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment but did not dispute the authenticity of the images.
As of Sunday morning, there were 4,878 unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody, with 822 unaccompanied children in its custody over 10 days, well past the three-day legal limit.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday defended the Biden administration’s handling of the new surge of unaccompanied minors at the border, telling NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the American people will “look back on this and say that we secured the border and we upheld our values.”
He said that the administration’s message to migrants seeking entry was still that “the border is closed,” but that it will not send unaccompanied minors back “into the Mexican desert.”
“We are safely processing the children who do come to our border,” he said. “We strongly urge, and the message is clear, not to do so now. I cannot overstate the perils of the journey that they take.”
He also said that some of the challenges were the result of Trump administration policies, which he said “dismantled the orderly, humane and efficient way of allowing children to make their claims under United States law in their own country.”
One cause for the overcrowding is a lack of space at facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Service, which is designated to care for migrant children after they are transferred from CBP custody.
“I have said repeatedly from the very outset that a Border Patrol station is no place for a child and that is why we are working around the clock to move those children out of the Border Patrol facilities, into the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services that shelters them,” Mayorkas said in an interview on CNN on Sunday.
CBP announced the opening of a temporary “soft-sided facility” in Donna to process individuals in February and said the facility is “weatherproof, climate-controlled, and is expected to provide ample areas for eating, sleeping, and personal hygiene.”