DONNA, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials on Tuesday released photos of a migrant processing tent facility in the border town of Donna, Texas, that showed very few unaccompanied minors — down significantly from a few weeks ago when images showed hundreds upon hundreds of migrants atop one another.
But U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report that the photos are misleading because he says the unaccompanied migrant children actually still are at the same sprawling tent compound in Dona, but just in other tents that are operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“All they’re doing is they’re moving kids from one tent to the other tent and saying, ‘Oh, they’re not in the Border Patrol (custody),’ but they’re right next door,” Cuellar said. “They’re just next door in HHS.”
In a statement, DHS acknowledged that the children are in HHS custody but has not said where. DHS officials said the photos “demonstrate the tremendous progress that DHS and its partners have made to safely and efficiently transfer these children out of CBP custody and into the care of HHS.”
The above photos show a far less-crowded migrant processing facility for unaccompanied youth in Donna, Texas, on April 30, 2021, according to CBP. Photos below show the facility on March 17 and Feb. 25, 2021. (Photos courtesy of DHS)
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.
Most recently, he said, five tents were added for HHS staff to hold and care for unaccompanied migrant youth, adding that each tent has the capacity to hold about 1,500 children.
They’re just next door in HHS (tents).”U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX
Border Report on Wednesday revisited the compound and noted how it has grown since it was built in early February. Now, every corner of what used to be farm fields is full of white tents and everything is surrounded by black fencing that prevents anyone outside from looking in.
Charter and large buses bringing migrants and taking them out run constantly, and parking lot workers use construction flags to help the ebb and flow of traffic in and out.
This facility came under national scrutiny when it first opened because media was not allowed inside for several weeks. DHS hired the New York company Deployed Resources to run the facility, for which it could receive up to $719 million, according to recent reports.
Several lawmakers, like Cuellar, who have been inside the complex at the height of the immigration influx into South Texas noted over-crowding and dangerous health conditions during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A select pool of media were finally admitted into the facility a few weeks ago. And the Biden administration also has begun issuing daily reports of unaccompanied minor migrants in HHS custody and CBP care, but it does not break the data down by geographic regions.
Data released Wednesday afternoon shows that 22,174 unaccompanied children were in HHS care as of Tuesday and 735 were in CBP custody. Nearly 400 children were transferred out of CBP custody and 420 were discharged from HHS care. This does not include Mexican migrant youth, who HHS and DHS say “most of whom will be repatriated and will not remain in CBP custody.”
Border Report learned that hundreds of Mexican youth have been repatriated from El Paso, Texas, across the border to Juarez, Mexico. Border Report asked DHS if Mexican youth are being sent back over the Rio Grande from South Texas into the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, including the crime-ridden city of Reynosa. This story will be updated with a response from DHS.
Cuellar also said Tuesday that since the Biden administration began admitting migrant families who crossed illegally the Rio Grande into South Texas that over 18,500 asylum-seekers have been released without the full Notice To Appear paperwork that indicates where and when they should appear for U.S. immigration court proceedings. This is an increase of 3,200 migrants in the past two weeks whose processing was fast-tracked as they were issued 385 Booking Report forms that migrant advocates say lack pertinent and necessary court information.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com