AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The outcry continues to build over the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today went to a detention facility for children in San Diego. There, she called on President Trump to rescind the policy.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NANCY PELOSI: This is not an immigration issue. This is a humanitarian issue. It's about the children. It's also about people seeking asylum.
CORNISH: The president and his Cabinet members have been responding to the criticism all day. We'll hear more about that from our White House reporter in a moment.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
First, let's go to the border. Reporter John Sepulvado of member station KQED is in Tornillo, Texas. That's about 40 miles southeast of El Paso. A tent encampment to house immigrant kids went up there last week. Hey there, John.
JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Hi. So when I say a tent encampment has gone up, what's it look like? What's the scene there?
SEPULVADO: So think of this as like the kind of tent you would see in a science fiction movie when doctors are going into a contaminated area. It's a super heavy industrial tent. It's white and inside of it, I am told by people who have been there, it's cut up into subsections that essentially act as rooms for about 20 immigrant children per room. And there's two staff members for each one inside.
Outside and when you get away from the tent, there's port-a-potties because there's Construction going on there. There are flatbed pickups. And I'm able to see this all through a chain-link fence that is about 10 feet high with barbed wire on top of it. And the tent is actually then surrounded by another chain-link fence. And this whole scene that I'm describing to you butts up right across the border.
So from where I'm standing, it's very difficult to see. But from Mexico, you can see it very well.
KELLY: And it sounds like you're describing you're at a distance from it. I assume you've tried to get inside. You have not been allowed to go inside and look firsthand?
SEPULVADO: I have not been allowed to go inside, many attorneys who actually represent these children have not been allowed to go inside. In fact, only two people that I know of have been able to go inside, one Republican congressman and also a Democratic state Texas representative. Her name is Mary Gonzalez. She was expecting to find toddlers crying and thirsty, and she found something quite different.
MARY GONZALEZ: There is medical facilities, a medical tent and medical van. There's doctors 24 hours a day. There's fire trucks, ambulance, big mess hall, everything's air conditioned. They're even hauling in water because the water in Tornillo, Texas, isn't that great.
SEPULVADO: And so her concern now is not so much the day-to-day but it's the long-term. Can the kids reach their lawyers? Can they reach their parents?
KELLY: And then in terms of what we know about the people who are inside this tent encampment, this is 16 and 17-year-olds, all boys?
SEPULVADO: That's what we know of as of this moment. I have been told that young girls and teenage girls are mostly being held in established detention centers that we already know of.
KELLY: And what do we know about these boys and how they came to be there? Did they cross the border with their parents? Did they come in unaccompanied or do we even know?
SEPULVADO: So here's the thing. Health and Human Services are telling us that they're unaccompanied minors. And that has a whole legal definition, which we don't have time to get into. But what that means is that they get legal rights and they have to stay in a detention facility. Ultimately, that's the most important take away from that.
The attorneys for these teenage boys say that's not the case, that many of these people did come in with their families and are being treated as unaccompanied minors, meaning that they're kind of held in detention for a much longer time. One of the big issues here is that there's very little transparency.
KELLY: And one last thing before I let you go, which is the question of whether this is an isolated tent encampment. Do we know whether the Trump administration might be planning to build more along the border?
SEPULVADO: So we know that the Department of Homeland Security along with the Department of Defense has acknowledged that they are considering and even moving towards putting more tent and temporary structures on military bases across the Sun Belt. What we're finding - and this is mainly from the research of Oregon Public Broadcasting's Emily Cureton - she's found a ton of materials that would be used to help educate children - desks for students, other tent-like structures.
So there's real indication that they're gearing up towards expanding this in other areas.
KELLY: Thanks very much, John.
SEPULVADO: Thank you.
KELLY: That's KQED's John Sepulvado reporting there from Tornillo, Texas.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.