Lawmakers shocked to learn border officials conducting DNA testing at Donna facility

Texas

Legislators shocked to learn

DONNA, Texas (Border Report) ⁠— A delegation of Hispanic Texas lawmakers toured the U.S. Immigration and Customs and Border Protection’s temporary detention facility today in Donna, Texas, and while they generally gave it a thumbs up for cleanliness and supplies, they were shocked by the separation of families and DNA testing done there.

The 11 Texas House members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and were skeptical as to whether they really got to see “the whole picture” of how immigrants are truly being treated. They swept through the Donna Holding Facility in about 45 minutes and did not see all of the holding areas, lawmakers said at a press conference Thursday immediately following their tour.

About 700 migrant families currently are being held in two giant tent structures in this remote area in South Texas, located at the base of the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge, about 20 miles southeast of McAllen. The giant tents can hold up to 2,000 immigrants, and a third tent being built to house 1,000 single adult males could open in a couple of weeks, lawmakers said.

Contrary to previous reports of unsanitary and unsafe conditions at other detention facilities in Texas and the United States, the lawmakers on Thursday said they found this facility relatively clean, well stocked with food and orderly. However, they said it was very cold inside and reported that federal officials are using DNA testing to determine whether migrants truly are “family units.” If a test shows otherwise, families are separated.

“One of the things that was confirmed for us on this visit that was unfortunate and goes against our values, just not as Texans, but as Latinos, as Americans and as human beings, is that children are being separated from their families when they cross with family members who are not part of their immediate family — mother, father — but when they come with an aunt, a grandmother or a cousin. That is not considered ‘family’ for purposes of keeping a child within the family unit and those families are separated and that is an injustice. ” State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said.

Children are being separated from their families when they cross with family members who are not part of their immediate family.”

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, (D-Austin)

DNA swabbing done in Donna

State Rep. Armando Martinez, a Democrat from Weslaco whose district is where the facility is located and who serves as caucus secretary, confirmed with Border Report that in order to identify families, federal officials are conducting DNA swabbing at the Donna detention facility. This facility is an in-take processing site and most migrants are held here for only a couple of days.

“There is some (DNA swabbing), we couldn’t get an actual number, though and we even asked for a cost, which they didn’t provide,” Martinez said.

Martinez said there is a fundamental misunderstanding by the Trump Administration of what a “family” unit is in the Hispanic culture, which typically has much broader and larger family structures. He added that he and his colleagues hope that lawmakers in Washington, D.C., will listen to their concerns and re-evaluate the current criteria that federal immigration officials follow when identifying “family units.”

Currently, immediate family members are only considered to be a child’s parents or legal guardians.

Reports have surfaced that DNA swabbing was being done at detention facilities along the Southwest border and has sparked a controversy among immigration advocates who question who is conducting the tests, whether every immigrant who comes with a child is being swabbed, and how exactly the tests are administered.

“There still were a lot of questions not answered,” Martinez said. “It’s imperative on us, as legislators, as representatives, as voices to the people — especially those who don’t have a voice, like immigrants — to continue to visit these facilities. … To make sure they are properly inspected, and that people are provided the needs for their daily lives as far as bathing, and food and treated humanely. Because at the end of the day they are all human beings and we should treat them with respect.”

It’s imperative on us … to make sure they are properly inspected and that people are provided the needs for their daily lives as far as bathing, and food and treated humanely. Because at the end of the day they are all human beings and we should treat them with respect.”

State Rep. Armando Martinez, (D-Weslaco), secretary of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus

It’s ‘meat-locker’ cold

State Rep. Armando Walle, a Democrat from Houston, described it as “meat-locker like temperatures.”

Federal officials told lawmakers that the tents are not insulated and so air conditioning units blow massive amounts of cold air to keep the facility cool during the very hot afternoon hours. But once the sun goes down then the temperatures inside hover around 60 degrees, Walle said. Most migrants huddle under thermal blankets, like the type given to marathon runners after races.

Migrants sleep on 4-inch-thick mats on the floor that are about 6 feet long. Children and mothers are held in pods that are 100 square feet wide and 40 feet high. Children over the age of 13 are housed in separate pods by gender and age. Each pod has two TVs and about six portable toilets.

There are 24 separate showers located in another section of the facility and migrants are allowed to bathe on certain days only. They have three warm meals a day and snacks are available all of the time, lawmakers said.

One problem is the “lights were kept on 24/7,” State Rep. Alex Dominguez, a Democrat from Brownsville said. “We are meeting their basic hygienic needs. They had diapers, feminine products, all good signs that they (federal officials) are learning from their past mistakes and hopefully this will be the future of what the Border Patrol and Homeland Security want to do to actually take care of these people.”

(Federal officials) are learning from their past mistakes and hopefully this will be the future of what the Border Patrol and Homeland Security want to do to actually take care of these people.”

State Rep. Alex Dominguez, (D-Brownsville)

Another concern, Hinojosa said, was that migrants are being discharged from this processing facility without knowing when or where they are to appear in court. In some cases, these migrants will be traveling to other cities when in years past they would be given full knowledge of their court date, time and place.

Border Report is pursuing more on this and will look into the ramifications this could have on migrants failing to appear in court, and/or adding to the 1 million backlogged immigration court cases in the United States.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.