The Border Patrol on Sunday allowed reporters to enter a former 55,000-square-foot warehouse used to hold undocumented migrants, with CBS News Correspondent David Begnaud describing the facility as “very sterile” with chain-link fences and ceiling netting used to contain subjects. He added that one cage had 20 children inside, and foil sheets were being used as blankets.
More than 1,100 people were housed in the facility, which is being used to hold families taken into custody in accordance with the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separates families who cross the southwestern border without legal documentation, including asylum-seekers who don’t use official ports of entry.
CBS News reported that individuals are being detained in the McAllen, Texas, facility for typically between 12 and 36 hours.
Agents running the facility told reporters that everyone is given adequate food, access to showers, clean clothes and medical care. Under U.S. law, children are required to be turned over within three days to shelters funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Manuel Padilla, chief Border Patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley sector, said agents have allowed families with children under the age of 5 to stay together in most cases.
The facility is divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children. Cells connect to common areas with portable restrooms. Overhead lighting systems remain on during all hours.
The Border Patrol said around 200 people inside the facility were minors unaccompanied by a parent, according to CBS News. Another 500 were “family units” of parents and children.
Customs and Border Protection on Friday released a copy of a document given to families that offers instructions on how to reunite after separation.
Many adults who entered the U.S. without legal permission could be charged with unlawful entry and placed in jail, away from their children.
Reporters were not allowed by agents to interview any of the detainees or take photos. Border Patrol and immigration staff are not allowed to touch or interact with children held in the facility.
The “zero tolerance” policy, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions has argued is necessary as a deterrence tool, has sparked intense debate among U.S. officials.
“Those kids inside who have been separated from their parents are already being traumatized,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who was denied entry earlier this month to a Texas children’s detainment facility, CBS News reported. “It doesn’t matter whether the floor is swept and the bedsheets tucked in tight.”
The Associated Press reported that several Republican representatives in U.S. Congress expressed opposition to the policy amid an expanding divide between GOP officials over the policy. A spokeswoman for the first Lady said Melania Trump “hates to see” families being separated and hopes “both sides of the aisle” come together to find a solution.