On Wednesday night, the world had a firsthand look into America’s largest migrant processing center in McAllen, Texas.
CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell along with a TV camera crew (who were allowed in for the first time) toured the center, known as Ursula, which holds more than 815 families, mothers and children — some just infants — in the 77,000-square-foot facility.
The migrants slept on mats with Mylar blankets. They were also given warm food and diapers.
The conditions that migrants are being held in is at the center of a fierce national debate. Advocates and lawmakers that have toured the facilities at the southern border say they are often dirty and the migrants held inside are sickly and poorly treated.
President Donald Trump‘s administration and border officials have argued in response that the volume of migrants from Mexico is a “crisis” that has overwhelmed them. Trump has demanded Congress cede to his policy demands and make the immigration laws more restrictive, which was a key campaign promise, as his critics say his policies toward migrants are cruel and ineffective.
One of the families in the Ursula center was Angelina Estrada and her 2-year-old son, Martin. Estrada told O’Donnell they had crossed the border after fleeing from Venezuela, where she had been threatened by the government because of her work as a journalist.
“I was in Reynosa almost three months listening to gunshots. It was terrible,” Estrada said, becoming emotional during her interview.
When asked if she traveled the whole way with her son, Estrada said she had done it alone.
“They left us alone in the jungle,” she said, crying as she recalled the experience and held her son. “I had to walk so much. It was terrible, but I had to do it for my son.”
Among the hundreds of adults and children in the facility were 300 unaccompanied kids, sleeping in a makeshift nursery and cared for by members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan told O’Donnell he “made the decision to take the risk in bringing cameras in to be transparent about what we’re facing.”
“I think we need a national conversation based on the facts that are actually happening on our border to try to address and solve the problems,” he said.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence visited the nearby McAllen Border Patrol station for adults where 382 migrant men were crowded together behind chain-linked fences under “sweltering hot” conditions. Given the number of people being held, it would have been impossible for the men to lay down all at once, and no mats or pillows were provided so the men slept on bare concrete.
“We prioritize children, obviously. We prioritize families, second. And single adults are the third to get that kind of humanitarian support,” McAleenan told O’Donnell.
He said that the “critical issue” behind the conditions inside the centers was a lack of funding from Congress and that a solution to combat the overcrowding would be a “tent city” named Donna. The secretary claimed it would be able to better house incoming migrants.
O’Donnell’s coverage continues Thursday (6:30 p.m. ET) on CBS Evening News. CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez will have an accompanying report on a federal migrant shelter for children in the coming weeks.