AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Border Patrol has come under withering criticism this week after reports that children were held in a remote west Texas station in squalid conditions and without enough food. Officials have denied the allegations. And today, they took reporters on a tour of the station where more than a hundred children are still being held. NPR's Joel Rose was on that tour. He joins us now. And, Joel, let's just start with what the facility was like.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Audie. Yeah. It's out here on a remote country road a little more than half an hour outside of El Paso, Texas. The building looks kind of like a warehouse. On the inside, it has Border Patrol offices as well as holding cells. It was clean. It did not smell bad. Frankly, it smelled better than some of the other holding facilities I've seen. We were shown where the children are kept in the holding cells with up to about 20 kids each. They're segregated by age, by gender. There are 117 kids here right now. That's about the capacity of the place officially. And it's down from the 350 kids who were held here just a few days ago, and it is way down from more than 700 kids who were held here at one point in May.
We were not able to speak to the kids that we saw, but we did see that they were being monitored by Border Patrol agents and that they appeared clean. A group of girls in one of the cells even laughed when a group of reporters walked by. It was not the scene of despair that you might have expected. The lawyers who were here last week interviewing kids who were held here said that they noted there was little adult supervision, that they found older kids caring for babies. They said the children complained about not having enough to eat, never showering, never washing their clothes. And some were quarantined with the flu. Today, it was really not at all like what those lawyers who visited the place quite recently described.
CORNISH: How did the Border Patrol explain the difference?
ROSE: Well, they said that the lawyers who were here did not see what they showed us, the reporters, on a tour today. The lawyers were only able to interview kids in a room, not inside the holding facilities themselves. The Border Patrol said that the lawyers did not get to see what they showed us - the supply closet with toothbrushes and soap. And the lawyers didn't get to see the pantry where the Border Patrol keeps the burritos and the instant cup of soup and the snacks for the kids. And the Border Patrol chief in the sector said he was hurt by the allegations, and he says that the agents do the best with the resources they have. They try to take good care of the kids and give the kids snacks whenever they ask.
CORNISH: At the same time, these stations are not typically open to the public. Give us a context about why Border Patrol would be taking the media on a tour in this moment.
ROSE: Well, exactly. This is very unusual. The public and reporters are rarely allowed into these places. But the allegations here are so serious that the Border Patrol says they have to defend themselves. I mean, understand these allegations have made headlines for days. The head of Customs and Border Protection announced his resignation after the story broke. Even President Trump and Vice President Pence have been expressing concern for the migrant kids held here. So while CBP denied the allegations, it became sort of a he said, she said story. And reporters were asking who they should believe, and they asked to see the facility for themselves. Yesterday, CBP said they didn't have time to take anyone on a tour, that they needed all hands on deck to process the, you know, influx of migrants crossing the border. But today, apparently, they changed their mind.
CORNISH: So, Joel, what happens next?
ROSE: Well, the children who are held here are unaccompanied minors who are on their way to the custody of Health and Human Services to the migrant shelters that HHS runs. But probably very soon, more unaccompanied children will cross the border and will take their place here at this holding facility and at others.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thank you.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.