June 19–BROWNSVILLE — Amid an unparalleled wave of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing the border, immigration agents in the Rio Grande Valley are struggling to process them within the 72-hour maximum required, according to Customs and Border Protection officials.
Since the beginning of the fiscal year in October, nearly 50,000 unaccompanied immigrant children have been detained by Border Patrol, twice as many as all of 2013, and by some estimates another 20,000 or more could arrive by September. The majority of children cross into the Rio Grande Valley.
Federal facilities have been overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of immigrants caught or turning themselves over to law enforcement officials. At times, the McAllen Border Patrol station has housed 1,300 immigrants in a facility intended for about 400.
On Wednesday, immigration officials gave journalists a tour of the Brownsville station. Though not South Texas’ busiest processing facility, it is stretched beyond capacity, with an average of 500 detainees in an area intended for just 250.
Doe-eyed children waved to visitors from behind the thick glass of the holding pods they shared with scores of others.
Some children sitting on the concrete floor stared blankly while covering themselves with Red Cross blankets to stay warm. In one cell, a small child sat alone, weeping. In another, filled with small girls and teenagers, some braided hair. And in yet another, a mother breast-fed an infant.
Outside, federal emergency workers deloused a group of girls, while nearby, in a field of brown grass, cordoned off by orange and white road cones and netting, another group of children tossed around a football.