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Texas Migrant Facility Was Severely Overcrowded, AP Reporter Says

NOEL KING, HOST:

What is it like inside of the facilities where thousands of children who traveled alone to the U.S. border are being held? Yesterday, the Biden administration let a small group of journalists into a Customs and Border Protection facility in Donna, Texas. It opened last month, and this is the first time the media has been allowed inside Elliot Spagat is a correspondent with The Associated Press. He was there, and he joins us now from McAllen, Texas. Good morning, Elliot.

ELLIOT SPAGAT: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What did you see yesterday inside this facility?

SPAGAT: Lots of people, lots of kids. This was a facility designed for 250 children under CDC guidelines, and it had 4,100 people, 3,400 of those were unaccompanied children and the other - the rest - the other 700 were parents with their children. We just saw just some numbers. I mean, more than 600 in one room, people, children, unaccompanied children in a space for 25 people - 32 people. Excuse me. So this is - these are just, you know, walls. And you'll remember in the Trump administration, the Obama administration, there were chain-link fences. They have plastic walls, partitions, separating people. But what really struck me is just how close together they were.

It was - I had visited personally one place in 2018. And it was, you know, they're very - the conditions were very cramped, but nothing like this. And this is, of course, just what I saw. I don't know what was going on that I didn't see, but just a lot of kids sitting very, you know, inches together, inches apart with foil blankets sitting on the ground and really doing nothing. They were just kind of listless, not a lot of energy. Of course, they can't - you can't do much, you know. We can't play or run around.

The doors were open, we were told by the Border Patrol, but there was really no where to go, just the hallway. There's a sort of a hallway where this plastic partitions lead out to. And it was packed when I was there with a lot of, you know, children getting ready to go to lunch. So that's what we saw and sort of the main - that was what's most striking. But there was also another area for tender age children. This is 3 to 9 roughly. So there was an - there was a little more room. It was like a walled playpen that had more room than you saw in what I just - the place I just described. But 11-year-old boy caring for his 3-year-old sister, a 17-year-old mom with a newborn, so these were just, you know, just much younger kids, very sensitive. And those were the main things we saw.

We also saw - the rest of it was really was a giant facility with, you know, white - these huge white tents. And it looked, the Border Patrol official described, like a conveyor belt. This is outside of the areas I just described. You get in and they check you in and move you from one place to another, kind of like a - some of these rooms reminded me of, like, a DMV facility where you just have a lot of people, a lot of children, waiting on these metal benches. And then they get called up to the table. There's a plastic shield due to COVID separating them from the agent. And they get - kids who are 14 and up get their fingerprints and photos taken, those who are younger don't. And they just kind of go through. They get their court papers, notices to appear in court. They get asked about their - any health issues, asked if they have any suicidal thoughts. There is no COVID testing unless you're symptomatic.

KING: OK. Elliot, in the seconds we have left - and I wish we had more time - did you talk to any of the kids?

SPAGAT: No, we didn't talk to the kids. We did speak with the Border Patrol agent but not the children, no.

KING: Elliot Spagat of The Associated Press. Elliot, thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

SPAGAT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.