Inside the Converted Walmart Where 1,500 Migrant Children Are Being Detained

[Content Note: Child abuse; nativism; carcerality.]

Last night, MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff was one of the first reporters allowed to tour Casa Padre, the converted Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, where more than a thousand migrant children are being detained. Smile at the children, he was told, because "they feel like animals in a cage being looked at."

The children are not kept in cages (at least not in this facility); instead they sleep in makeshift rooms, five beds to a room: "The bedrooms at Casa Padre are doorless, with walls reaching only halfway to a 20-foot-high industrial ceiling that serves as a constant reminder of the building's past. It used to be four beds to a room. But as the shelter fills to capacity, a fifth bed — a cot — has been added to each."

Soboroff reported what he saw during an interview with Lawrence O'Donnell last night. The complete transcript, when available, will be here. Below, I have transcribed key passages of Soboroff's commentary.

We were not allowed to bring our cameras inside, and that is because there are almost 1,500 boys between the ages of 10 and 17 years old, that are going to sleep in there tonight; at 9:00, the lights go out. And it's essentially a prison, or a jail, without cages or cells for these young boys, the majority of them who arrived in America as unaccompanied minors — they crossed on their own — but an increasing number, as you know and have been reporting on, are being separated from their parents, because of the zero tolerance policy from the Trump administration. And it's, ah, it's truly an unbelievable thing to see. I mean, it's almost hard to wrap your head around, but you go inside, and there are hundreds of kids at a time, in line for chow, doing activities, but they're all there because they were picked up by the Border Patrol and locked up. And they're not gonna be able to get out of there for the next couple months; at least, that's the average stay.

...There's a lot of American history all over this place, and the kids go to school for six hours a day, and they want to teach these kids about America, but there's a mural of — you know, of anybody that they could have possibly picked — Donald Trump, right in that cafeteria. So, first thing you see when you go in there, and essentially what it says is: "You don't always win the battle, but you can win the war." [Image of the mural is shown onscreen; the quote attributed to Trump reads: "Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war."] It's just a striking thing to think about — that an increasing number of these kids are being ripped apart from their parents and being brought into a facility like this, sleeping in a former Walmart, because of a Donald Trump policy, and there's Donald Trump, up on the wall, for them to see, every single day.

...I want to emphasize: This is a licensed facility with, you know, child service professionals, and I think that they're doing, for all intents and purposes, a relatively good job taking care of these kids. There's a large medical staff on duty at all times, 48 people and 3 doctors on call; there's teachers; it is 1 to 8, in terms of staff to detained children. But the big thing...that was flagged to me by the operators of this facility — which, again, was opened before this migrant policy change by the Trump administration, of zero tolerance — is that now it's going to be overflowing, because kids are being ripped away from their parents and they're being put into centers like this.

They gotta open these "tent cities," and the administration is looking at federal property, like military bases or ports of entry. What they told me inside here today is that those facilities don't have to be licensed; they don't have to have practitioners that are professionals in their field, because essentially those are emergency setups. And it wasn't something I had heard before — and I would imagine could have, you know, very big consequences, when you've got hundreds if not thousands of undocumented children, you know, as young as infants, not being taken care of necessarily by professionals.
All of this is very alarming. What Soboroff is describing sounds like it's verging uncomfortably close to a reeducation camp, where incarcerated children are indoctrinated with U.S. propaganda under a watchful mural of the president who created the "emergency" that will justify the creation of concentration camps that lack even the illusion of care.

(Which is not to unilaterally disparage the professionals who work at Casa Padre. I'm certain some of them genuinely care for these children very much. But it's the provision of care inside a detention center, and any of them who truly care for these kids surely would prefer they weren't there at all.)

This is absolutely intolerable. And that this obscenity is happening inside a former Walmart really emphasizes what a uniquely U.S. American horror it is.

We must resist this with everything we've got. Make some noise. Be of service. Contact your Senators and Reps. Write letters to the editor of your local paper. Raise awareness on social media. Talk to anyone who will listen.

Related Reading:

[CN: Video may autoplay at link] Ed Lavandera, Jason Morris, and Darran Simon at CNN: She Says Federal Officials Took Her Daughter While She Breastfed the Child in a Detention Center.

Nick Miroff at the Washington Post: Scanning Immigrants' Old Fingerprints, U.S. Threatens to Strip Thousands of Citizenship.

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