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Detainees slept in a holding cell at the Brownsville facility, which was opened Wednesday for tours by the media.

Feed Loader,

A toddler sat on the floor at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Brownsville, Texas.

Photos by Eric Gay • Associated Press pool,

Texas border station crammed with illegal immigrant children

  • Article by: Christopher Sherman
  • Associated Press
  • June 18, 2014 - 6:13 PM

– Children’s faces pressed against glass. Young boys and girls lying under blankets wall-to-wall on concrete floors. The odor that comes with dirty travelers in close quarters.

These were the sights from a Wednesday tour of a Border Patrol station in South Texas where thousands of immigrants are being held before they are transferred.

It was the first time the media was given access to the facility since President Obama called the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally this year an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

Border Patrol stations were not meant for long-term custody. Immigrants are supposed to wait there until they are processed and sent to detention centers. But the surge in children arriving without parents has overwhelmed them.

The surge, which has been building for three years, comes amid a steep overall increase in immigrant arrests in Texas.

The children are mostly from Central America. They pose a particular challenge because the law requires Customs and Border Protection to transfer them to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. That agency’s network of some 100 shelters is now caring for more than 7,600 children.

Children began backing up in already overcrowded Border Patrol stations. Eventually, the Border Patrol began flying them to Arizona, where it set up a processing center. From there, they are sent to shelters or temporary housing at barracks on military bases in California, Texas and Oklahoma.

But the children who were at Fort Brown on Wednesday remain in the custody of an agency ill-equipped to care for them. Young boys were divided from young girls. Mothers with children still younger were in another cell.

Happier faces could be found in a side yard. There, children colored pictures and teen girls kicked a soccer ball and tossed a football with Federal Emergency Management Agency workers.

© 2014 Star Tribune