Almost two weeks ago, Senator Jeff Merkley made public a video that showed him being forbidden from entering the Brownsville facility in Texas where immigrant children are detained while their parents wait to face a federal judge. Wednesday, MSNBC reporter Jacob Soboroff was one of a handful of reporters who were allowed access to the facility. MSNBC reports that Soboroff called what he saw “organized chaos.” He stated that “This place is called a ‘shelter’ but effectively these kids are incarcerated.”
The Brownsville facility is in a building that used to be a Walmart. It holds over 1,400 boys between the ages of 10 and 17. Some of them crossed the border in the U.S. alone, but an increasing number have been separated from their families who crossed illegally. Their stay in the facility can be a month or two while they wait for their parents to make their way through the immigration process. The ability of the child to communicate with their parents depends on the regulations of the often federal penal institution at which their parents have been detained. People at the Brownsville facility indicated that most children there are able to have some communication with their parents.
The facility is run by licensed professionals from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Soboroff said that it reminded him of a dormitory with a central cafeteria and rooms housing four beds each. The boys’ movement is not restricted within the building. They are allowed two hours outside each day.
Soboroff explained that efforts are made to educate the boys during their stay and that education includes American history. The staff includes individuals from child services and other licensed professionals including a large medical staff and teachers. The child to staff ratio is 8 to 1. Caring for the children in the detention facility includes providing them with medication when it’s deemed necessary. That medication is being provided without the usual parental approval.
The MSNBC reporter stated that facilities like the one in Brownsville will soon be overflowing, which will lead to the construction of “tent cities” for the children on federal property. Staff at the Brownsville facility said that those places won’t have to be licensed and won’t be required to have licensed professionals on staff.
Senator Merkley is pushing for a bill that keeps families together when they cross the border. He also is calling for a change in the ability to enter the detention centers. Currently, it requires a week or two notice to gain entry. He believes that government officials should be able to enter with just a day’s notice, so they can see the usual day-to-day operations instead of a “cleaned up, spruced up… show put on for us.”