MISSION, Texas — A temporary Border Patrol facility in Donna, Texas, that is meant to hold a maximum of 250 people was holding more than 5,700 people Monday, putting it at 22 times over the legal limit, according to two government officials with firsthand knowledge of the numbers.
The extreme overcrowding, which is of added concern because of the coronavirus pandemic, comes as the Biden administration struggles with a border crisis that has seen it take twice as many migrant children into custody as were held during the peak in 2019 during the Trump administration.
Rep. Beth Van Duyne, a Texas Republican who had toured the facility Monday as part of a delegation, said that it was significantly over capacity because other federal agencies are not accepting families and unaccompanied children quickly enough.
“No matter what you see from our small lenses is equal to the emotion that you feel when you see it in context. Pod after pod after pod of kids lying on the ground — barely enough room to even see,” Van Duyne said during a press conference on the Rio Grande River Tuesday. “They are trying to move them out as quickly as they can to decompression centers around the country where they are then filtering them out and processing through as quickly as possible.”
“There is no plan,” Van Duyne said of the Biden administration’s management of the situation. “The plan is to make our country basically open borders.”
Former acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan told the Washington Examiner Wednesday morning that the detention rate has ranged in recent days from 400% to 700% over capacity.
CBP would not comment when asked about Van Duyne’s remarks but referred the Washington Examiner to a pool report from a reporter who was allowed to tour the Donna tents earlier Tuesday, the first time any media have been allowed inside. The reporter’s notes state that 4,100 people were in custody Tuesday, including 3,400 children and 700 members of families.
The Department of Health and Human Services has stood up temporary facilities in border states to house children after they have been apprehended by federal law enforcement on the border. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is supposed to take families into longer-term custody from the Border Patrol, can only hold families up to 20 days. Border officials are opting to release most families directly into the United States with notices to appear in immigration court rather than transfer them to ICE, only to have to release people three weeks later.
Biden administration officials have defended their decision in January not to continue expelling single children from the border by saying that they are vulnerable and protected by trafficking laws.
In May 2019, during the Trump administration, a Government Accountability Office report revealed that the Border Patrol was holding 900 people in a facility only intended to hold 125 people. The report sparked outrage from Democrats over the crowded conditions and was brought up during congressional hearings.