Almost 300 migrant children removed from Texas facility described as 'appalling'

Almost 300 migrant children have been removed a border patrol facility in Texas after media reports of lawyers describing “appalling” and potentially dangerous conditions, Department of Homeland Security officials told NBC News.

Lawyers who recently visited two Texas facilities holding migrant children described seeing young children and teenagers not being able to shower for days or even weeks, inadequate food, flu outbreaks and prolonged periods of detention.

The children who were removed were being held at a border station in Clint, Texas. Some were wearing dirty clothes covered in mucus or even urine, said Elora Mukherjee, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School. Teenage mothers wore clothing stained with breast milk. None of the children had access to soap or toothpaste, she said.

“Almost every child I spoke with had not showered or bathed since they crossed the border — some of them more than three weeks ago,” she said. “There is a stench that emanates from some of the children because they haven’t had an opportunity to put on clean clothes and to take a shower.”

The children have been taken to a tent detention camp also in El Paso, Texas, where they will remain under the custody of Border Patrol until they can be placed with the Department of Health and Human Services, the DHS officials said. The Associated Press first reported on the conditions at the facility.

Mukherjee was part of the team of lawyers who visited the facility last week. She said that although the border station has the capacity for slightly more than 100 people, when they arrived Monday morning there were about 350 children there. The group spoke to more than 60.

“I have never seen conditions as appalling as what we witnessed last week,” she said. “The children are hungry, dirty and sick and being detained for very long periods of time.”

“Children who are young themselves are being told by guards they must take care of even younger children,” Mukherjee said, adding that children as young as 7 and 8 were forced to care for 2-year-olds.

She said almost all the children had been separated from the adults they crossed the border with — siblings, aunts or grandparents, or even their parents.

“They don’t know where their loved ones are who they crossed the border with,” she said.

Many also had family members already in the United States waiting to take them in, she said.

Federal law requires unaccompanied or separated migrant children be transferred to HHS custody within 72 hours, but some children at the Clint facility had been in Border Patrol custody for weeks, she said.

Migrant children are increasingly finding themselves stuck on concrete benches or even outside at Border Patrol stations, with HHS close to exceeding its capacity, according to three government officials and documents reviewed by NBC News.

Julia Ainsley contributed.