Wednesday, a group of reporters from various outlets were given a tour inside the Clint, Texas shelter which made news last week after attorneys claimed children insider were dirty and hungry and didn’t have soap or toothbrushes. The tour this week was organized by Customs and Border Protection both because reporters wanted to see inside and because CBP wanted to rebut some of the allegations made about the site. Last week there were over 300 kids in this shelter. After the negative press, all but about 30 were moved out but then nearly 100 were moved back in. At the time of the tour Wednesday, there were just over 100 kids inside.
As you might imagine, the tone of the stories covering the tour ranges quite a bit. In fact, that’s really the point I wanted to make. Depending on whose story you read, you get a slightly different take on what is happening.
NBC News’ story is headlined “Tour of Texas migrant shelter for children shows a system overwhelmed.” That’s really the angle the story takes:
It was only meant to hold 106 migrants.
At one point, it held almost 700 children…
Last week, lawyers who visited the station to ensure compliance with federal laws interviewed children and later spoke to the media about what they heard and witnessed. They told chilling stories of children who went without adequate food, showers or toothbrushes.
Border Patrol agents tell us those attorneys didn’t see the parts of the facility that we were shown. They only spoke with children in conference rooms. Before the start of the tour, one agent said, “We have to defend ourselves.”
At the very end of the story, NBC mentions the facility did have toothbrushes:
There is a two-stall portable shower facility. We’re told the children are usually allowed to shower every two days, depending on capacity. When there are less kids, they’re able to shower every day.
Finally, we’re shown a supply closet holding items such as paper towels and gauze pads.
One agent makes sure we notice the toothbrushes.
The El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief, Aaron Hull, said the recent headlines accusing guards at the facility of being callous were upsetting because of the agents are risking their lives to enforce the law in a way that’s humane.
“It’s hurtful,” Hull told the group of reporters about the recent headlines. “Most of us are parents ourselves and we genuinely care about the welfare of these kids.”
He said agents are trying to do with right thing with “what we’ve got.” But he admits limited resources is making it difficult for them to do their job – so he’s imploring lawmakers to come up with a solution.
But Fox News’s story wasn’t a whitewash. In fact, it did not paint the facility in a particularly flattering light:
When Fox News toured the facility Wednesday night, there children sitting on cots and bunk beds. There were lots of flies buzzing around since the doors were constantly being swung open. There were seven port-potties outside and military-style showers.
There were pallets of food. Each day, the children eat Oatmeal for breakfast and ramen noodles for lunch. For dinner, they have a burrito.
ABC News’ version of the story is headlined, “Inside the Clint, Texas border facility that’s been accused of child neglect and ‘public health emergency.’” That’s pretty non-committal but the lede definitely went for the heartstrings:
The little face pressed against the glass window of the concrete cell belonged a toddler peering out at a group of journalists allowed access into a remote compound outside El Paso, Texas.
ABC’s actual description of the facility did provide a pretty good sense of what was going on inside. Here’s a sample:
During the tour, ABC News saw children who appeared to be toddlers, mingling with older female children in a crowded cell. The children appeared to be issued a thin foam mattress and thin cotton blanket…
For the girl inmates, those cramped cells are where they take their meals, sleep and use the bathroom. Televisions outside the cells play movies during the day. Some of the children seen by ABC News sat on cots, staring at the walls. One girl left a bank of phones sobbing, for reasons that were not clear.
Further on the ABC story also gave some space to the situation the CBP agents are facing:
Agents, many of them mothers and fathers, draw on experiences with their own families, he said. He claimed some agents have developed close relationships with the kids under their care, doing what they can to make them feel safe in a foreign place.
“We have to be constantly providing things that we typically wouldn’t for a normal adult in our custody,” he said.
Using resources normally spent on guarding the nation’s borders, he said officers have been tasked with changing diapers, helping the little ones brush their teeth and rounding up the kids for a regimented schedule of meals.
Finally, NPR did a brief story on the tour for All Things Considered with the headline “Border Patrol Officials Allow Reporters To See Inside Clint, Texas, Facility.” This actually had one of the most positive descriptions of the facility itself:
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…
[Border Patrol] 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.
I think Media Matters would have exploded in a fireball if a Fox News reporter had offered such a positive assessment of the facility.
In any case, I thought it was interesting how different these stories were despite the fact that they were all about the same facility based on a tour that happened on the same day. In fact, I’m pretty sure all of these reporters were taking the tour at the same time because two of the outlets (NBC and ABC) mentioned the same girl crying after leaving a bank of phones. The point is obvious: Different reporters emphasized different things and depending on which ones you read, you could come away with a very different impression of the conditions inside this facility.
If there is a common thread here it’s that things appear under control now but this facility was never designed to have 700 children inside it or even 300. When CBP says they are overwhelmed, they aren’t making idle chatter. Bottom line: This really is a crisis that needs to be dealt with.
Finally, for those not familiar with Rashomon (in the headline), it’s a great and justifiably famous Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa which looks at a single incident from multiple perspectives.