EXPLAINER: Questions remain about conditions of migrant kids

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Young minors lie inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in Donna, Texas, Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The minors are housed by the hundreds in eight pods that are about 3,200 square feet in size. Many of the pods had more than 500 children in them. The Biden administration on Tuesday for the first time allowed journalists inside its main detention facility at the border for migrant children, revealing a severely overcrowded tent structure where more than 4,000 kids and families were crammed into pods and the youngest kept in a large play pen with mats on the floor for sleeping.(AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills,Pool)

DONNA, Texas – The Biden administration's decision this week to allow journalists to see Customs and Border Protection's main holding center for unaccompanied migrant children answered some questions about the conditions they are being held in but raised others. Here are some of the takeaways from Tuesday's visit to the facility in Donna, Texas, by The Associated Press and CBS.


It would be impossible to compare the conditions of children migrants being held now with previous years without unfettered access to facilities, which hasn't happened under any administration.

What's clear is that the Donna facility, which opened Feb. 9, is tremendously overcrowded. It was holding more than 4,100 migrants on Tuesday in space designed for only 250 under federal guidelines to contain the spread of COVID-19. More than 3,400 were unaccompanied children and the rest were parents and their children.

Rooms walled with plastic partitions and designed for 32 children held more than 500 on Tuesday. Children sat on mats with foil blankets, chatting quietly. Doors to the rooms were open but children had no space to roam around or play games. A room for children ages 3 to 9 allowed for more movement in a walled playpen. An 11-year-old boy cared for his 3-year-old sister, while a 17-year-old mother watched after her newborn.

In 2018, the Associated Press toured the main holding center in McAllen, Texas, with other news organizations and found dozens of men crammed into cells with windows to a processing area. Children were held behind chain-link fences.

In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security's internal watchdog published reports with shocking descriptions and photos of conditions. A cell for 35 men held 155, with space was so tight that it was standing-room only and some stood on toilets to breathe. Follow-up visits also describe extreme overcrowding. In 2014, photos of a holding center in Nogales, Arizona, showed children behind chain-link fences did not show the same level of overcrowding.