By CECILIA VEGA, MIKE LEVINE and KATHERINE FAULDERS, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Faced with mounting pressure over the public’s limited access to federal facilities housing a record number of migrant children, the Biden administration has now released its first official images from inside two Texas detention centers, with ABC News receiving an exclusive first look at videos and photos produced in recent days by the U.S. government.
The videos — shot last week and released Tuesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection — show living conditions inside a processing facility in El Paso, Texas, and a holding facility in Donna, Texas, where unaccompanied children and other migrants, including families, are being held while they await transfer to other federal agencies better suited to address their needs.
In the government-sanctioned photos and videos, children arriving at the Donna facility wear masks as they have their temperatures checked and receive health scans. One photo shows a child in a playpen, being watched over by a contracted caretaker.
The nearly four-minute video from Donna then depicts a crowded but orderly facility, with children packed into enclosures and sleeping on mats on floors. The video also shows shelves from inside the facility stocked with items including linens, diapers, food, water and hand sanitizer.
A nearly three-minute video from inside the facility in El Paso depicts a less-crowded facility, but similarly shows children sleeping on mats on the floor and shelves stocked with essential items.
Video from the facility in Donna shows an outdoor recreational area without children, where they are supposed to be allowed outside twice a day. Last week, around the time the video was shot, legal advocates who have spoken to children in the facility told ABC News that children complained they were only allowed in the courtyard for about 20 minutes every few days, if that.
A brief clip from the El Paso center shows children laughing and playing outdoors.
The release of the video comes nearly 24 hours after Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, shared photos from inside the Donna facility that he obtained from an unidentified source.
In an interview late Monday with ABC News Live, Cuellar said the photos he shared showed a “disturbing” scene.
“Are we having a humanitarian crisis trying to take care of these kids? The answer is yes,” he said. “This administration has all the good intentions. They want to treat the kids in a humane way … but their good intentions are being overwhelmed by numbers.”
In fact, the Biden administration is grappling with a recent surge in unaccompanied minors seeking to cross into the United States from Mexico, most of them fleeing their homes in Central America due to the corruption, violence and poverty there.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently said he expects Border Patrol agents along the southwest border to encounter more migrants in the coming months than they have in the past 20 years, and Border Patrol facilities are already beyond capacity with a record number of unaccompanied migrants in their care.
Last week in a statement, Mayorkas said a “Border Patrol facility is no place for a child,” and insisted that the administration is “working in partnership with HHS to address the needs of unaccompanied children, which is made only more difficult given the protocols and restrictions required to protect the public health and the health of the children themselves.”
Over the past month, reporters — including from ABC News — have repeatedly asked the White House, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services for access to U.S. facilities housing migrant children.
Those requests have either been declined or ignored, with U.S. officials often citing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and privacy interests of the children. Requests for videos or photos appropriately redacted by the government, however, have similarly languished — until Tuesday.
Internal CBP documents obtained by ABC News show there are now 3,889 migrants in the Donna facility that is meant to hold just 250. That means it is currently at 1,556% capacity.
A record number of 5,000 unaccompanied children are in Border Patrol custody, and an additional 10,500 are in the care of Health and Human Services, according to an HHS official and a document obtained by ABC News.
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.