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Migrants in the Donna overflow facility. Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)

Exclusive photos from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas, reveal the crowded, makeshift conditions at the border as the government's longer-term child shelters and family detention centers fill up.

Why it matters: Each of eight "pods" in the so-called soft-sided facility has a 260-person occupancy, said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who provided the photos to Axios to raise awareness about the situation. But as of Sunday, he said, one pod held more than 400 unaccompanied male minors.

  • Because the Biden administration has restricted media coverage at housing facilities, images like these offer a rare window into conditions.
  • Cuellar, who recently visited a shelter for children, did not tour the Donna facility or take the photos himself. He said the photos were taken over the weekend.

What they're saying: Cuellar described the setting as "terrible conditions for the children" and said they need to be moved more rapidly into the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Border Patrol agents are "doing the best they can under the circumstances" but are "not equipped to care for kids" and "need help from the administration," he said.
  • "We have to stop kids and families from making the dangerous trek across Mexico to come to the United States. We have to work with Mexico and Central American countries to have them apply for asylum in their countries."

“I have said repeatedly from the very outset a Border Patrol station is no place for a child," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN on Sunday. "That is why we are working around the clock to move these children out of the Border Patrol facilities into the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services that shelters them.”

  • On MSNBC, he compared the administration's actions to those of the Trump administration,"We are not expelling children, girls, 5, 7, 9 years old back into the desert of Mexico, back into the hands of traffickers.”

The bottom line: Facilities are at capacity under coronavirus protocols, and the Rio Grande Valley sector — which includes Donna — has far exceeded even its non-pandemic limits.

  • As of Saturday, there were 10,000 migrants in CBP custody overall. Nearly half were unaccompanied minors — thousands of whom had been waiting for more than 3 days in border patrol facilities, according to government data provided to Axios by another source.
Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.