The news of the planned tent city, as well as Trump's family separation policy that has helped create demand for the new detention facilities, has prompted widespread outrage-including from Democrats, Republicans, and even evangelical leaders and the Catholic Church.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (D) led another group of Democratic lawmakers to the South Texas border near McAllen to tour processing centers run by the Customs and Border Patrol. As of last week, over 570 unaccompanied children were in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol, and almost 300 of those had been held for more than 72 hours, the limit for holding an immigrant of any age at a border station. In March, the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, which also operates 26 other shelters in Texas, Arizona and California, had a capacity of 1,186, according to a licensing document posted in the shelter.
"The younger they are, the more difficulty they'll have being detained and dealing with all that comes with detention", she said.
The former superstore stretches across 250,000 square feet, but the bedrooms for the children housed there are tightly packed.
"They are not in cells they're free to walk around, but they're allowed outside for two hours a day and they're in an old Walmart for 22 hours a day".
The children spend about two hours outside - one hour in the morning, one in the afternoon. It is brightly lit and areas such as the vehicle oil changing station have been repurposed for activities like watching movies.
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, a Republican who represents the area around Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, said he understood the administration needs to enforce immigration laws but questioned holding the minors on military bases.
- Elizabeth de la Vega (@Delavegalaw) June 14, 2018They converted a @Walmart in Brownsville, TX to hold 1500 separated children.
Reporters who visited the shelter were not allowed to interview the children, but said that the kids did not look visibly upset. He shared images of the mural, which includes the quotation, "Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war". "It's to be expected", said Juan Sanchez, the founder and CEO.
The shelter was reported to be clean and well staffed. Parents held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities may not have phone access or be reachable, he acknowledged, but he said that "a majority of separated children have other family here they can call".