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Photos: Families, unaccompanied children held in Texas facilities

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The temporary processing facilities in Donna, Texas, February 25, 2021, constructed to safely process family units and unaccompanied alien children (UACs) encountered and in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. The facility will provide processing capacity in the RGV while the permanent Centralized Processing Center in McAllen is renovated. - CBP

More by Paul Ingram

Images and video from U.S. Customs and Border Protection published Tuesday show the inside of two facilities in Texas where the agency is currently holding hundreds of families with children, and children traveling without parents or guardians, seeking asylum in the United States after crossing the border in the Rio Grande Valley. 

In recent days, the Biden administration has faced increasing pressure to allow public access to the two federal facilities—a processing facility in El Paso and a holding facility in Donna, Texas. The holding site in Donna, just outside of McAllen in South Texas, is a "soft-sided facility," essentially a very-large, insulated tent, complete with floor, heating and air conditioning. 

"In order to protect the health and safety of our workforce and those in our care we continue to discourage external visitors in our facilities; however, CBP is working to balance the need for public transparency and accountability," a spokesman said.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, released some images from the crowded facility in Donna to Axios, and told the outlet that the facility had eight "pods" each capable of holding around 260 people, and that on Sunday, one pod held more than 400 boys. 

Culler told Axios that Border Patrol agents are "doing the best they can under the circumstances" but are "not equipped to care for kids" and "need help from the administration," he said. "We have to stop kids and families from making the dangerous trek across Mexico to come to the United States. We have to work with Mexico and Central American countries to have them apply for asylum in their countries," Cueller said. 

However, under U.S. law one cannot apply for asylum unless they are in the U.S. And, a program allowing Central American Minors to apply for refugee resettlement from their home countries, created after the 2014 influx of unaccompanied children, was shuttered during the Trump administration, and has only been partially restarted because of a lawsuit. 

CBP said that the agency continues to transfer unaccompanied minors to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as "quickly and efficiently as possible after they are apprehended on the Southwest Border." 

Since April 2020, the number of unaccompanied minors has risen steadily from just 741 kids to 9,457 in February 2021. Additionally, the number of families traveling with children has risen steadily from 738 in April 2020 to 19,426 in Feb. 2021. 

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In comparison, during the Trump administration nearly 41,000 people traveling as families crossed into the U.S. to legally seek asylum in Feb. 2019, and at the peak of crossings that year, nearly 89,000 people traveling as families and more than 11,800 children crossed into the U.S. 

Families have been steadily released by CBP, while children must be transferred to DHHS and its agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which sends children to shelters, and often to a parent or guardian who will sponsor that child in the U.S. Even after their release, children must present themselves to court to pursue their asylum claims, no matter their age. 

DHHS told TucsonSentinel.com that there are approximately 11,100 unaccompanied children in the agency's care, and by the end of February, most of the children sheltered by the agency were held for 37 days. 

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