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Children sleep behind bars, on concrete floors at border 'prison', House Democrats say

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6/23/2018 Doug Stanglin

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., puts her arm around Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., after touring the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center on June 23, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. © David J. Phillip Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., puts her arm around Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., after touring the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center on June 23, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. More than two dozen Democratic members of Congress visited a holding facility in Texas for separated immigrant children Saturday and described conditions as "cruel and inhumane" that bring "a great shame to a great country."

The delegation visited a Customs and Border Protection processing facility in the U.S.-Mexico border city of McAllen, the epicenter of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy in which people entering the U.S. illegally face being prosecuted.

They described seeing children sleeping behind bars, on concrete floors and under emergency “mylar” heat-resistant blanks. California Congressman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said, “It is, for all intents and purposes, a prison.”

Until a public outcry erupted, forcing President Donald Trump to reverse course, parents were jailed and children taken to government-contracted shelters. About 9,000 such family units have been caught in each of the last three months, according to U.S. border authorities.

Although the separations have been stopped, some 2,000 children have still not been reunited with their parents.

Caption: Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., talks about the immigrant children being being held in the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center after touring the facility Saturday, June 23, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. Over 2,000 children were taken from their families in recent weeks under a Trump administration "zero tolerance" policy in which people entering the U.S. illegally face being prosecuted. Parents and children were being detained separately. But after public outcry, President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered that they be brought back together. © AP Photo/David J. Phillip Caption: Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., talks about the immigrant children being being held in the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center after touring the facility Saturday, June 23, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. Over 2,000 children were taken from their families in recent weeks under a Trump administration "zero tolerance" policy in which people entering the U.S. illegally face being prosecuted. Parents and children were being detained separately. But after public outcry, President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered that they be brought back together.

The policy, as originally articulated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was viewed as a tool to discourage people coming up from dysfunctional countries in Central America to seek asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fl., told reporters that after her visit "my concern is not alleviated" over the fate of the separated families.

"This is cruel and inhumane," she said, describing the inside of the facility as a "sea of humanity" of little girls, boys, fathers.

Instead of building a border wall, she said, Trump should help alleviate some of the conditions in Central America that have driven tens of thousands of people to flee north.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. said the current policy of separating kids from their parents has "brought great shame to a great country."

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., said Border Patrol agents grappling with the issue at the facilities were "concerned and confused." "We need consistency and compassion out of this administration," she said.

Esty also called on the president to refrain from saying the children were "infesting" the U.S. "It's insulting, it's dangerous and we need to do better," she said.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., called Trump's rapid change of position on the separation issue an "insane flip-flop."

He also slammed the president for branding such children as criminals, and members of the MS-13 gang.

"(He) wants Americans to believe that the hundreds of people we saw in this facility were a danger to them and to this country," the Himes said.

While noting that most Border Patrol workers at the facility were trying to do the best they can, Himes said the Congressional delegation was there to see that the children receive "the values and ethic good treatment that we are here to demand."

Immigration officials have said they could seek up to 15,000 beds in family detention facilities, and the Pentagon is drawing up plans to house as many as 20,000 unaccompanied immigrant children on military bases.

More: Another chaotic week: How Trump scrambled to address border crisis

More: Trump berates Democrats as he begs for their votes on immigration bill

More: Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' border prosecutions led to time served, $10 fees

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