A Border Patrol agent described the perilous journey unaccompanied children take to get to the US border including recalling the harrowing account of one young girl who couldn’t speak after she was gang-raped while making the trek.
Oscar Escamilla, the acting executive officer for the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, described in an interview with Reuters the dire conditions the minors are being housed in at federal detention centers and disclosed details about their journeys as the Biden administration scrambles to handle the influx of kids making their way to the US.
“About a month and a half ago, I was back here talking to one of the little girls, you know, and I told the congressional delegation just the same thing. Right,” he said in the interview.
“We were going to send her to the hospital. And as I got closer to her, I noticed that she couldn’t speak. And I asked the medical staff what happened. And the reason she was going to the hospital was because she had gotten gang raped. And the reason that she couldn’t speak was because she had lost her voice in the process while she was getting raped. Those things hit hard.”
Escamilla said the migrant processing center in Donna, Texas, is holding 4,100 migrants, and most of them are unaccompanied – four times its pre-coronavirus pandemic capacity.
He added that 2,000 of the minors have been held longer than the 72-hour legal limit and some of them have been in the facility for more than 15 days while they await placement in shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“It’s out of my hands,” he said. “For whatever reason, they have fallen through the system or through the cracks.”
Video that accompanied the interview with Escamilla shows children – some as young as 3 – sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on padded floor mats while wrapped in Mylar blankets inside space walled off with plastic sheeting.
Groups of children waited for drink containers and cheese crackers, crowded against each other without space for social distancing, as others sat inside a brightly colored playpen, using coloring books or watching a movie.
A young girl washed her hair in an industrial-looking sink
“We’re not in the business of detention. We’re forced into the business because we can’t turn them over to anybody,” Escamilla said of the conditions.
He said many of the children – coming from Central America and Mexico – make the trek alone.
“These kids cross by themselves. Obviously, the parent pays a fee to the smuggler. The cartel member or the smuggler at this point will bring the kid over, will bring him to the river, will hand him over to the raft, will place them in a raft and say, ‘OK, go.’ When you get to the other side, they’ll explain to them there’s going to be an officer. They’ll explain what we wear and tell them. ‘Turn yourselves in to them,’” Escamilla said.
He said the children all have stories to tell.
“They’ll tell you that they don’t have their parents. There’s a little girl that I talked to a little while ago. She said that she had lost her mom and that she doesn’t have a father. So she’s coming into this country because her uncle is going to be the sponsor. … And I asked her, ‘What state are you going to? What’s your final destination?’ She said, ‘I don’t know. All I know is it snows there. It’s all I know.’”