DHS allows media into Donna migrant processing facility, numbers show it remains overcapacity

Texas

The sprawling migrant processing tent facility is seen on May 5, 2021, in the small border town of Donna, Texas. The compound houses tents operated by DHS and HHS officials, where unaccompanied youth and families are processed. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

DONNA, TEXAS (KVEO)—The Department of Homeland Security allowed media into the South Texas Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Donna, Texas.

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The tour was held on Thursday, and media was not allowed to enter any cameras or phones into the facility.

Executive Officer for the Rio Grande Valley Operational Programs Division, Oscar Escamilla, led the tour and said the facility is to process family units and unaccompanied minors.

The number of migrants held in CBP custody at the facility is decreasing due to the Health and Human Services facilities next door.

CBP said they expanded their facilities, but they remain over capacity.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas said HHS is better equipped to house migrants.

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“There they got people who can provide better care than Border Patrol because Border Patrol is not set-up to keep someone longer than 72 hours,” said Cuellar.

Escamilla said they have cut down the average holding time at the facility to 24 hours.

The president of the National Immigration Forum, Ali Noorani, said that the close partnership between HHS and DHS is one reason for faster processing time.

“They are partnering closely with Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection so that children are spending less and less time within CBP facilities and moving into Health and Human Services facilities,” said Noorani.

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On Thursday, there was a total of 810 migrants at the Donna facility, according to Escamilla. 330 migrants were minors.

The Donna processing facility can only be “COVID-safe” if there are no more than 500 migrants in holding.

Escamilla says there are 5,600 migrants in holding, to date, region-wide. And, 3,700 of them are minors.

To operate this facility, Escamilla says it costs around $19 million a month, and 40% of all of CBP’s workforce.

Noorani said the reason our systems are stressed is due to the Trump administration leaving no framework for immigration behind.

“When the administration came in, it is pretty clear that under Trump the entire system had been eviscerated,” said Noorani.

Escamilla said there have been 31,000 apprehensions on 2021 so far, which is more than the entire 2019 year pre-pandemic, which saw 34,000, and the year 2020, which saw 10,000 apprehensions.

HHS’ tents are set up just next door for unaccompanied children, who have been fully processed through CBP.

“I know some people want them to move faster but you know we need more case managers for health and human services,” said Cuellar. “But we cannot rush it where we just put them out to somebody we have to make sure they’re put in safe hands.” 

Families that traveled with a minor under the age of six, will not be separated.

“I know some people want them to move faster but you know we need more case managers for health and human services,” said Cuellar. “But we cannot rush it where we just put them out to somebody we have to make sure they’re put in safe hands.”

“Because somebody figured out oh if you bring in a kid with an adult outside Mexico or Canada—the contiguous countries—you will be able to stay in the united states,” said Cuellar.

This is thanks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which applies to both Canada and Mexico. This means that Mexican youth are more often returned back to Mexico rather than be processed.

“CBP officers complete a cursory review if whether or not the child was a victim of trafficking or would be a victim of violence should they return to Mexico and if under that cursory review,” said Noorani. “The child is immediately returned.”

CBP said though HHS’ expansion has helped with processing crime on the border is still on the rise.

Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, has toured the Donna facility numerous times since the immigration influx into South Texas began after President Joe Biden took office, and he says the Donna compound grows each week.

The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas is scheduled to visit the Donna facility on Friday.

Mayorkas will travel to Donna to receive updates on unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and view conditions at the facility.

Mayorkas is expected to begin his tour of the facility at 12 p.m. on Friday.


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