The U.S. government has removed most of the children from a remote Border Patrol station in Texas after reports that more than 300 children were detained there, caring for one another with inadequate food, water and sanitation.
Only 30 children remained Monday at the station outside El Paso, said Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, after her office was briefed on the situation by an official with Customs and Border Protection.
Also on Monday, authorities said the bodies of what appeared to be a woman in her 20s and three children -- two infants and a toddler -- were found late Sunday near the edge of the Rio Grande outside the Texas city of McAllen.
Officials said there were no signs of foul play and that the four may have died from dehydration and heat exposure. Authorities believe that the bodies were those of migrants in the country illegally, but neither their identities nor their country of origin had been determined Monday.
In El Paso, most of the infants, toddlers and teens who were held at the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, are to be moved by today to shelters and other facilities run by a separate federal agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement said Monday.
Attorneys who visited Clint last week said older children were trying to take care of infants and toddlers, The Associated Press reported Thursday. They described a 4-year-old with matted hair who had gone without a shower for days, as well as hungry, inconsolable children struggling to soothe one another. Some had been locked for three weeks inside the facility, where 15 children were sick with the flu and another 10 were in medical quarantine.
"How is it possible that you both were unaware of the inhumane conditions for children, especially tender-age children at the Clint Station?" asked Escobar in a letter sent Friday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting Commissioner John Sanders and U.S. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost.
Border Patrol officials have not responded to questions about the conditions at the Clint facility, but in an emailed statement Monday, they said: "Our short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis."
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Monday that his agency could be out of money to shelter migrant children by next month.
"We are full," he said after a meeting at the White House. "We do not have capacity for more of these unaccompanied children to come across the border. At some point in early July, we are probably going to be out of money. This isn't political; this isn't about immigration."
Customs and Border Protection says that since October, it has apprehended more than 56,000 children unaccompanied by their parents or other caregivers at the border. Azar's agency says it received about 49,000 children from immigration authorities in the entire 2018 fiscal year, which ended in September.
The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced a bill last week that would provide $4.6 billion in emergency money that President Donald Trump's administration has sought to deal with the migration surge. The full Senate will vote on the bill this week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said.
The House is set to vote on its own version of the legislation this week. A conference committee would be required to reconcile differences between the bills, and it's unlikely that panel could complete the work by Thursday, when Congress is scheduled to leave for a two-week July 4 recess.
Escobar said some of the children at the Clint station were sent to another facility on the north side of El Paso called Border Patrol Station 1. Escobar said it's a temporary site with roll-out mattresses, showers, medical facilities and air conditioning.
But Clara Long, an attorney who interviewed children at Border Patrol Station 1 last week, said conditions were not necessarily better there.
"One boy I spoke with said his family didn't get mattresses or blankets for the first two nights, and he and his mom came down with a fever," said Long, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. "He said there were no toothbrushes, and it was very, very cold."
Vice President Mike Pence, asked Sunday on Face the Nation about the unsafe, unsanitary conditions for the children, said "it's totally unacceptable," adding that he hopes Congress will allocate more resources to border security.
Long and a group of lawyers inspected the facilities because they are involved in the Flores settlement, a Bill Clinton-era legal agreement that governs detention conditions for migrant children and families. The lawyers negotiated access to the facility with officials and said the Border Patrol knew the dates of their visit three weeks in advance.
Many children interviewed had arrived alone at the U.S.-Mexico border, but some had been separated from their parents or other adult caregivers such as aunts and uncles, the attorneys said.
In McAllen, the four bodies were found by Border Patrol agents across the river from Reynosa, Mexico, in an area on the U.S. side of the border that is heavily traveled by Central American families. They were in a brush-covered region southeast of Anzalduas Park on federal property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, near the state-run Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area, officials said. The FBI was leading the investigation because the bodies were found on federal land.
"Most of the time, we usually find either adults or teenagers, but this is the first time we've actually found infants and toddlers, and it is pretty shocking for us," said Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. Guerra, who broke the news of the discovery on Twitter.
It was unclear what happened to the woman and children whose bodies were found: whether they had gotten lost in the brush in the heat, whether they were already ill when they crossed the river, or whether they were abandoned by smugglers or other migrants. Guerra said they were found in a makeshift staging area, a clearing near the river where groups of migrants often gather after they cross the river. From there, they typically walk deeper into the countryside to look for federal agents.
"It's an incredibly heartbreaking situation, which seems to happen far too often," Special Agent Michelle Lee, a spokesman for the FBI in San Antonio, said in a statement.
Information for this article was contributed by Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke of The Associated Press; by Shannon Pettypiece of Bloomberg News; and by Mitchell Ferman and Manny Fernandez of The New York Times.
A Section on 06/25/2019
Print Headline: Migrant kids moved after facility seen as unsafe