Jun 14, 2018, 12:21 AM ET

A look inside the Walmart turned immigration detention center for children


For the first time since the Trump administration announced its "zero-tolerance" policy on illegal immigration, a small group of journalists was allowed into the country's largest licensed shelter for undocumented children.

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Imagine being 10 years old, separated from your mother or father, not understanding why, and being taken to a hulking, windowless building filled with 1,500 other kids you've never met.

You're allowed to make two phone calls a week -- one of which hopefully is to a detained parent now thousands of miles away.

That's the reality we saw.

PHOTO: A Walmart-turned-shelter houses almost 1,500 undocumented children.U.S. Government
A Walmart-turned-shelter houses almost 1,500 undocumented children.

The shelter is clean and well staffed, with activities to keep the kids busy and their minds off their unfortunate situation.

The kids we saw, for the most part, looked content. No crying, no one slouched in a corner alone.

But this was also a media tour, and journalists weren't allowed to interview any of the children. Who knows what happens when the lights go out and they're left alone with their thoughts?

(MORE: Honduran immigrant arrested, separated from family died of 'suicide in custody': Officials)

(MORE: White House, Trump signal support for GOP immigration bills, Republicans say)

The facility is called Casa Padre. It's in Brownsville, Texas, in what was once a Walmart. About 1,500 boys aged 10 to 17 now call it home.

PHOTO: Murals are plastered on the walls of a Walmart-turned-shelter for almost 1,500 undocumented children.U.S. Government
Murals are plastered on the walls of a Walmart-turned-shelter for almost 1,500 undocumented children.

It's the largest licensed facility in the country. The vast majority of the boys crossed illegally and unaccompanied, but Casa Padre is nearing capacity as more children are separated from their parents at the border and shipped there.

On this night, 1,469 boys slept there. The official capacity is 1,497. An extra bed has been added to each room, which means there are five bunks inside a 10-foot-by-24-foot space.

PHOTO: Almost 1,500 undocumented children are at a Walmart-turned-shelter.U.S. Government
Almost 1,500 undocumented children are at a Walmart-turned-shelter.

The children get three daily meals and two snacks. They have access to video games, pool tables and classes where they can learn English and U.S. civics.

The children are each assigned a clinician to help them deal with separation trauma and mental-health issues.

The children spend about two hours outside -- one hour in the morning, one in the afternoon. There are soccer and basketball courts.

The children, nonetheless, spend most of their day inside a converted big-bog store, the walls of which are plastered with murals of U.S. presidents quotations from them.

PHOTO: A teddy bear on a bed of a Walmart-turned-shelter that houses almost 1,500 undocumented children.U.S. Government
A teddy bear on a bed of a Walmart-turned-shelter that houses almost 1,500 undocumented children.

The quotation attached to a picture of Donald Trump reads: "Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war."

Southwest Key Programs, which ran the tour of the shelter for the group of journalists, operates 26 similar facilities, all of which are nearing capacity. Emergency shelters soon may need to be built to accommodate the inflow of children.

The average length of stay for an undocumented child at a facility like Casa Padre is about 56 days.

Officials at Casa Padre said: "The goal is to reunite families."

News - A look inside the Walmart turned immigration detention center for children

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  • hardresetamericadotcom

    I see the DNC has distributed their approved talking points to all of their propaganda agencies.

    Trump is not separating children, he is following a 9th circuit decision that says that these children cannot be housed with their parents while incarcerated and are to be transferred to the Dept. Of Health and Human services to be placed with family members in the US or sponsors.

    90% of these kids show up at he border unaccompanied, they get better treatment, FOR FREE, from the US taxpayer than they would in any other country. Meanwhile homeless US veterans, AMERICAN CITIZENS, are afforded no such accommodations.

  • Pam

    Don't separate them, send them all back across the border to their homes. They do not belong here at all, our laws state it and that is what makes it ILLEGAL. Duh!!!

  • kasualobserver

    maybe take out ads or billboards in mexico near their illegal crossing places stating that your kiddos will be separated and live in a facility while you are detained in another center, so if you value your family remaining together.. turn around and go back! oh, wait... chancing getting caught sneaking into the u.s. to make it to a a sanctuary city so that you can get as many government freebies as you can, work under the table, protest that you want the u.s. to treat your illegal azz better and get sappy politicians to use you as tools to get votes by pretending to care about you and your illegally here family makes it all worth trying I guess.

  • Murasaki Shikibu

    So what we have here are people being imprisoned in a derelict Walmart by the Federal Government. It's official; EVERYTHING the Republicans accused Obama of doing is something they do. Now that we know Jade Helm was actually their plot, we might need to start checking the basements of Pizzerias in Red states.

  • Melanie Reynolds

    Terribly sad reading this... You might as well say these children are in a prison themselves, and being punished because they want freedom and a better way to live.

  • shrykos25

    Stop giving us sob stories. Blame their parents, not the US. DEPORT THEM ALL!

  • @robbz

    Why is everyone blaming the government rather than the parents who are dragging their children along during their criminal activity, exposing them to extreme risks of crossing illegally and exposing them to being separated due to their poor, illegal decisions?

  • b rubble

    Sounds familiar. Hitler and the Jews?

  • mary ward

    Those who complain should take 4 or 5 kids into their homes. Pro abortion people always say that about pro life people. So either walk your talk or quit crying about pro life people and anti-illegal immigration people, libs.

  • mary ward

    These kids are well fed and have a clean place to sleep and play games at taxpayer expense. I think the US is being very kind and accommodating. This is our law. Do not cross the border illegally. It has nothing to do with Trump.

  • MauiOhana808

    Sessions and donnie are just trying to eliminate as many minorities as they can............so the White man stays in the majority..........but in reality.................this will never happen.........and if YOU, fear people of other ethnicities, then YOU have the problem!!!
    Make America Happy Again!!!
    One indictment, subpoena, plea deal at a time!!!
    Thank you Special Prosecutor Mueller, the Grand Jury and the FBI!!!!
    Aloha :^D

  • gtodadeffmac2013 .

    All the PROGANDA peddlin exploiting the illegal immigration issue don't givadam about the distraught, starving, homeless AMERICAN children!! They rather make money off of lawbreakers than MAKE A BETTER LIFE for America's children !! disgusting !!!

  • gtodadeffmac2013 .

    Idiots are so worried about POWER and specific people instead of the devastation effects of ILLEGAL immigration. HYPOCRITES want to cry about separating of families, one how do you know they are even related, i know, you ASSuming, next none of you are crying about the legal citizen familes separated everyday by over incarceratiion and the broken children services and foster care, there are legit cases but there are too many that are NOT!! Again no one is doing a thing about the LEGAL AMERICAN POOR IN DRUG INFESTED, GANG WAR SATURATED, LOCAL CORRUPTION areas of our country did OUR kids ask for this!!! I don't care what LABEL you are, illegal immigration is taking minies from taking our of OUR LEGAL CITIZENS!!!

  • Cheaptalk

    Trump is not putting up with this illegal imigration stuff. I think if I was one contemplating coming to the US during Trumps term in office I would think twice about crossing the border illegal. If the illlegals wouldn't come over to this country illegal this wouldn't happen.

  • lifeisgood101

    I’ve watched propoganda stills of the German CC’s and have personally visited them. There is no truth in the Government’s portrayal. Shame on America and shame on any “American” who supports this and/or this Administration. I honestly can’t wait until they come for you.

  • Bronx

    It is good that this center gets some attention, but what I want to know is where are the other children.
    What conditions are they in? How many have passed on while in custody, if any? Have any received
    treatment at a real hospital? Have any committed suicide? How many have completely disappeared?
    Where are the girls? Where are the infants?

    Are we going to continue to tolerate a system of mini-concentration camps free from
    any form of law and regulatory oversight?

    Even if you sincerely think these kids should be held, and held separately from their mothers,
    why don't you speak up for assurances of their well being?

    Most of you Trumpets constantly tell us the government can't and doesn't do a good job of much of anything. While I disagree with that view, shouldn't you be speaking up demanding that the government prove the well being of all of the kids given your general thought that it can't be trusted?

  • Vicky Evey

    I assume any young girls who also came across the border, either accompanied with parents, or came only with a sibling, or alone, are placed in a separate detention center for girls, thus not only being separated from their parents, but their siblings too. Where do the babies and toddler go? This was a staged tour for journalists, I suppose similar to what N.K. or China do when staging tours for United States diplomats? Journalists were not allowed to interview any of the boys. I bet the boys were instructed how to behave, not to speak, not to cry, act happy, or else... go a night without dinner? This Zero-tolerance policy is despicable. First they came for the illegal immigrants, then they came for the DACA Dreamers, and now they come for the Legal Residents*! Google: "ICE ambushes and arrests legal resident who’s lived in the U.S. over 50 years". Who will they come for next?

  • ababg

    Trump put these kids up with X boxes, beds, soccer and basketball courts and ikea like modern decor coupled with inspirational murals!!

    Obama locked them up in dog cages.