A series of photos showing child migrants packed into crowded concrete rooms appear to be authentic scenes from U.S. Border Patrol facilities, a Border Patrol union spokesperson told Fusion on Monday.
The photos, which were published last week on the conservative news website Breitbart, present a shocking image of how child migrants are housed by the federal government after being taken into custody. One photo shows dozens of migrants crammed into a dingy room, with barely space enough to move around.
Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said on Monday that the images seem credible.
“They appear to be legitimate,” he wrote in an email. “I have been in some of those facilities and other union reps have vouched that the others are authentic.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency that oversees Border Patrol, would not confirm or deny the authenticity of the images when contacted by Fusion last week.
The context of the photos — and how long children might have been housed in these conditions — is unclear.
While the photos have not been officially verified, the Obama administration has acknowledged a sharp rise in the number of children crossing illegally into the U.S. without a parent, particularly in South Texas.
President Obama called the situation an “urgent humanitarian situation” in a memo last week and is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts to house and care for the children.
Most unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. come from Mexico or Central America. But while U.S. authorities can quickly return Mexican migrants to their home country, the law requires minors from countries other than Mexico or Canada to be released to a parent or guardian.
The number of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador has greatly increased in recent years, taxing the federal agencies charged with caring for them in the U.S.
Right now, more than 1,000 children are being housed on a military base near San Antonio. The federal government has also been flying migrant children from Texas to Arizona to deal with the overflow. Roughly 700 children were being held in a makeshift shelter near Nogales as of Saturday, but nearly three times as many mattresses had been ordered for the shelter, according to a report in the Associated Press.
Last week, federal officials said that a naval base in California’s Ventura County would also be outfitted to house roughly 600 children. Another facility that can hold up to 1,200 children is being prepped in Oklahoma, according to a senior White House official.
The Breitbart photos published last week may come from more than one Border Patrol facility. Stu Harris, vice president of the Border Patrol union in El Paso, couldn’t pinpoint the setting of the photos.
“I could not say for sure exactly what station those photos came from, but it does appear to me to be what you would encounter in a typical Border Patrol processing facility,” he told Fusion in an email.
Fusion has blurred the faces of the people in the two photos included here to protect their privacy.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.