‘Where are the girls?’: Reporters press the Trump administration to release information and images of detained migrant girls and toddlers

Migrant boys in a detention facility in McAllen, Texas. Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley Sector via Associated Press
  • Images of detained migrant children released by the government in recent days have not pictured girls or toddlers, prompting many on social media to ask: “Where are the girls?”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services has not yet provided information about the separate facilities where girls and young children are being held.
  • A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday that the agency would release footage of girls and young children “within the next two days.”

Images and video footage of detained migrant children held in cages and sleeping on concrete floors in detention facilities on the US-Mexico border have helped galvanize widespread public condemnation of the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

But these images – released by the government as journalists were barred from photographing children and facilities – have, so far, not included migrant girls and toddlers. The conspicuous absence of these children prompted reporters and others to demand more information about where and in what conditions some of the most vulnerable migrant children are being held.

In recent days, reporters have been permitted to tour two detention facilities. One is in Brownsville, Texas and known as Casa Padre, a converted Walmart Supercenter that now holds nearly 1,500 migrant boys between the ages of 10 and 17 who were either separated from their parents at the border or arrived in the US unaccompanied. The other facility, in McAllen, Texas, holds both adults and children for up to three days.

The Brownsville facility, which exclusively houses children, is one of approximately 100 shelters the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement is using to hold more than 11,000 refugee children in 17 states.

The journalists allowed inside the two Texas facilities were prohibited from taking photos or videos – instead, the government released its own images and footage, which have been widely distributed in the media.

During a press briefing Monday evening, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she had not seen the photos of boys being held in chain-link cages that her own agency had released and that have saturated the media over the last several days.

When asked where the girls and toddlers are being held, Nielson referred reporters to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which assumes responsibility for detained children after they have spent 72 hours in DHS custody.

Migrants cages mcallen texas
In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, migrants who have been taken into custody sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas on Sunday, June 17. Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley Sector via Associated Press

CBS News’s David Begnaud tweeted that he and other reporters saw girls and toddlers in the McAllen detention facility, but have not been provided any information about where those children go once they’re separated from their parents and in HHS custody.

“We’ve repeatedly ask the Dept of Health & Human Services. So far, no answer. We’ll keep asking,” Begnaud wrote.

Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, tweeted after touring the Brownsville facility on Sunday that girls and the youngest children are being held at separate facilities across the country, including in Miami and New York.

The president of Kids in Need of Defence, a non-profit that provides legal services to unaccompanied children, told The Washington Post that HHS “is opening a new facility in Houston for children under 12 and pregnant and nursing teens that can hold 230 people.”

There has been little access for outsiders

Journalists have also requested access to facilities where girls and toddlers are being held, but, as of Tuesday afternoon, none have been granted access.

On Tuesday morning, MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff reported that the Department of Health and Human Services provided him photos of detained girls and toddlers taken in 2016 under the Obama administration.

“I said no thanks,” Soboroff tweeted. “Still trying to get in.”

The lack of information and documentation has prompted many on social media to speculate that the government is refusing to release images of girls and toddlers because they would spark even more public outrage.

A DHS spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday that the agency would release footage of girls and young children “within the next two days.”