STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One of our reporters has had a look inside a Border Patrol station where agents are holding migrant children. Lawyers who advocate for the children say they've heard horror stories about squalid conditions and a lack of food, a lack of basic necessities. And last night, those lawyers filed in federal court, calling this a public health emergency. So a lot to catch up on here, and NPR's Joel Rose is the person to do it. Hi there, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, so two items there. First, this court filing, what are the lawyers saying?
ROSE: Well, they're asking the court for more oversight of these Border Patrol stations where migrant children are being held temporarily. And they also want immediate inspections by public health experts. Last night, they filed dozens of declarations that they took from migrant children who are held in these Border Patrol facilities, including one in Clint, Texas, and another station in - Clint Station in west Texas and another station in south Texas, where the children have described these harrowing conditions. The children say they're scared, that no one is looking after them, that they're struggling to look out for each other. The children say they're cold. They can't sleep because the lights are never turned off. They complain about the food. They say they don't get enough of it or that it's inedible. One child said they have to eat raw oatmeal. Another child said, quote, "there are no activities, only crying."
INSKEEP: Ow. And so then, the Border Patrol decides to let people like you have a look in there. What were the conditions under which you were allowed to look around, and what did you see?
ROSE: Right. Well, this is a facility outside El Paso in Clint, Texas, where the Border Patrol holds migrant children who came to the border alone or else were separated from relatives who are not their parents or legal guardians. And what I saw is really totally different from the picture painted by these lawyers. The facility was clean. They did not let us talk to the kids, but they showed us the holding cells where more than 100 children are now staying. They showed us the pantry full of snacks - microwavable burritos and soup - and the supply room, where the agents keep toothbrushes and soap and clothes. And the Border Patrol says that these lawyers who visited the site last week did not see any of this, that they only interviewed the children in another room. And the Border Patrol sector chief in El Paso, Aaron Hull, said his agents are doing the best they can with what they have. When a reporter asked how he felt about these allegations, Hull said it's hurtful. He said his agents are risking their lives, their health and even their marriages in order to do their job.
INSKEEP: Risking their marriages? Why are they risking their marriages?
ROSE: I, you know, I didn't even get a chance to follow up on that one, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, all right, maybe just saying they're very busy, I don't know. Or perhaps their spouses disapprove of what's going on. But I'm thinking about the details you just gave me there, and I'm trying to figure out what to make of them. It sounds like they made a point of being sure that you saw there were toothbrushes. OK. But wasn't an administration lawyer in court just the other day arguing - arguing for the right not to have to give toothbrushes to children who were detained?
ROSE: That's true, Steve. And it's hard to know exactly what's going on here. I mean, the Border Patrol is definitely struggling to keep up with this historic surge of migrant families and children who are crossing the southern border. So the stations like Clint end up holding hundreds of these kids for days or even weeks on end when they were really designed to hold adults for just a few hours. But advocates for these children just have little patience for this argument. We talked to Clara Long with Human Rights Watch, who is one of the lawyers who visited Clint last week, and she's really skeptical of the picture that the Border Patrol presented to us yesterday.
CLARA LONG: You're going to a facility that has been prepared for a tour. They've also moved out hundreds of children from the facility before you visited. And they didn't give you access to speak directly with children so that they could tell you directly what was happening and what they had been through in detention.
INSKEEP: Joel, can we be very clear on one point - regardless of whether there are toothbrushes or whatever, is it true - is it a fact that hundreds of children have been held for extended periods of time in facilities that are not designed for children?
ROSE: Yeah. Border Patrol conceded that they are holding children for a week, or even two weeks on average, when they are supposed to be handing them off to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours.
INSKEEP: Joel, thanks for your work, really appreciate it.
ROSE: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: NPR's Joel Rose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.