I’m a part of the first group of journalists to go into the shelter for detained child migrants in Brownsville Texas since the zero tolerance separation policy was announced. 1000+ boys here. Going in right now.
Just finished tour, don't even know where to start. One of the first things you notice when you walk into the shelter — no joke — a mural of Trump with the quote “sometimes losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.” Presidential murals everywhere. But that one is 1st.
This shelter, Casa Padre, is the largest licensed childcare facility of its kind in the country. Nearly 1,500 boys 10-17 in here now. They’re supposed to sleep four to room. Nearly every room has 5. They’ve received a variance from the state because of overcrowding.
Officials here said they’ve never had an MS-13 member here, ever. Moments after we walked in a shelter employee asked us to smile at hundreds of detained migrant kids in line for a meal because “they feel like animals in a cage being looked at.” Kids here get only two hours a day to be outside in fresh air. One hour of structured time. One hour of free time. The rest of the day is spent inside a former Wal Mart.
Instructions to employees in the lobby of the shelter if you encounter media: 1) “Immediate lt notify PD,” or the police department. 2) Call the shelter communications director. In that order. For the record, nobody called cops on us. We were invited by HHS and the shelter.
This mega-shelter is run by trained staff — a nonprofit. I believe the worker looking after these kids who said she’d like to see a day when they don’t have to do this. But things are moving in the wrong direction — capacity is 1497 and tonight 1469 boys will sleep here.
I have been inside a federal prison and county jails. This place is called a shelter but these kids are incarcerated. No cells and no cages, and they get to go to classes about American history and watch Moana, but they’re in custody. Something I just told @chrislhayes: this place is a licensed child care facility with trained staff. There are 26 operated by the same nonprofit, @SouthwestKey. Its president told me that potential new tent cities that will be on federal property *don’t* have to be licensed.
Here’s the Trump mural I mentioned to @chrislhayes inside the shelter for incarcerated child migrants.
This is not a school cafeteria. Hundreds called to eat at a time on rotating shifts. One final thing that stuck out: this former WalMart is 250,000 square feet. The boys have under *40* square feet of living space each. Lights go out in there at 9PM every night.
Forgot to mention last night: folks at the shelter have a weekly policy call with feds about changes that will affect the shelter. They say they weren’t given a heads up about Trump/Sessions zero tolerance separation policy that’s led to overcrowding.
Just confirmed with @ckubeNBC: @HHSGov has selected Tornillo Land Port of Entry near El Paso as the first temporary shelter location. It will have 450 beds. Kids will sleep in tents
It was pointed out to me that temperatures are already in the triple-digits in Tornillo, Texas — where the Trump administration will build its first tent city for migrant kids.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is an erasure poem, based on 17 tweets written by MSNBC journalist, Jacob Soboroff, on June 13th, 2018 as he visited and reported on the conditions of child migrants held at a detention center, Casa Padre, located in Brownsville, TX.
Image Description of this Poem: This poem is an erasure poem. Some text appears in bold black print while the rest appears in a lighter shade of black. The darker text provides a second version of the poem. It reads:
don’t even know where to start.
you notice when you walk into the shelter — no joke —
a new war.
1,500 boys 10-17 here now
they’ve never had
they feel like animals in a cage
Kids here get only two hours outside in fresh air.
tonight 1469 boys will sleep here.
inside a prison
This place is a class about American history
Added: Friday, August 16, 2019 / Used with permission.
Writer, teacher, and activist Lupe Mendez is the author of the poetry collection Why I Am Like Tequila (Willow Books, 2019). He earned an MFA in Creative Writing (poetry) from the University of Texas at El Paso. His poetry has appeared in Luna Luna, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Hunger Mountain, Glass Poetry, Revista Síncope, Pilgrimage, Border Senses, Gigantic Sequins, and Gulf Coast: A Journal of Fine Arts and Literature, among others. Mendez is one of the founders of the Librotraficante Movement and of Tintero Projects, a Texas based grassroots organization that works to provide a platform for emerging Latinx writers and writers of color within the Gulf Coast Region and beyond. He has received fellowships from CantoMundo, Macondo, and the Crescendo Literary/Poetry Foundation's Poetry Incubator.