Sights, smells of holding cells for immigrant kids

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Sights, smells of holding cells for immigrant kids
Mexican children born in the United States and deported to Mexico take part in a protest organized by the Meso-American Migrant Movement to demand the deportation of Mexicans from the US to stop, on May 2, 2013 in front of the US embassy in Mexico City. Migration will be among the top issues when US President Barack Obama visits Mexico and Costa Rica this week, and many in the region hope Washington will finally act to give 11 million undocumented workers a path to citizenship. Obama headed to Mexico on Thursday to put trade back at the heart of bilateral ties, but his southern neighbour's shifting drug war tactics loom large over the visit. AFP PHOTO / Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A counter-protestor holds a sign supporting immigration outside a US Border Patrol facility in Murrieta during an anti-immigration protest in Murrieta, California, on July 7, 2014. Protestors are opposing the arrival of buses carrying undocumented women and children migrants for processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station. Deportations of illegal migrants crossing the US border are being stepped up, a top Obama administration official said on Sunday, defending the White House's handling of a flood of undocumented children. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 07: Heather Piña Ledezma, who turned 6 on July 4th, attends a rally with mother who is from Mexico, on the steps of the St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House, July 7, 2014. Immigration advocates gathered to call on the Obama administration to relieve the the undocumented families and children fleeing Central America. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Protestors leave an anti-illegal immigration protest outside a US Border Patrol facility in Murrieta, California, on July 7, 2014. Protestors are opposing the arrival of buses carrying undocumented women and children migrants for processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station. Deportations of illegal migrants crossing the US border are being stepped up, a top Obama administration official said on Sunday, defending the White House's handling of a flood of undocumented children. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator holds a sign reading 'It's Not About Hate, It's About Love For Our Own' at a protest near the entrance to the US Border Patrol facility in Murrieta, California, on July 7, 2014. The protestors are opposing the arrival of buses carrying undocumented women and children migrants for processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station. Deportations of illegal migrants crossing the US border are being stepped up, a top Obama adminstration official said on Sunday, defending the White House's handling of a flood of undocumented children. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
US Border patrol agents keep watch outside the entrance to the US Border Patrol facility in Murrieta during an anti-immigration protest in Murrieta, California, on July 7, 2014. Protestors are opposing the arrival of buses carrying undocumented women and children migrants for processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station. Deportations of illegal migrants crossing the US border are being stepped up, a top Obama administration official said on Sunday, defending the White House's handling of a flood of undocumented children. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold American flags near the entrance to the US Border Patrol facility in Murrieta, California on July 7, 2014. protestors are opposing the arrival of buses carrying undocumented women and children migrants for processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station. Deportations of illegal migrants crossing the US border are being stepped up, a top Obama administration official said on Sunday, defending the White House's handling of a flood of undocumented children. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Protestor Jennifer Bryan and her sons Wyatt, 11, and Jack, 8, holds signs opposing the arrival of buses carrying undocumented women and children migrants for processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station, near the entrance to the station in Murrieta, California, on July 7, 2014. Deportations of illegal migrants crossing the US border are being stepped up, a top Obama administration official said on Sunday, defending the White House's handling of a flood of undocumented children. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with a boy after disembarking from Air Force One on May 10, 2011 at the Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, Texas. US Obama will deliver a speech in on immigration reform in El Paso, Texas, across the Mexican border from violence-wracked Ciudad Juarez. Obama has recently revived his goal of achieving comprehensive immigration reform, opening a path to legalization for the estimated 11 million foreign nationals living in the country illegally, most of them Hispanics. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 07: Aury Terriquez, left, 6, whose parents are from Guatemala, and Lucia Jimenez, 5, whose parents are from Bolivia, attend a rally on the steps of the St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House, July 7, 2014. Immigration advocates gathered to call on the Obama administration to relieve the the undocumented families and children fleeing Central America. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Immigration reform protesters listen to speakers during an immigration rally July 7, 2014 in Washington, DC. Participants condemned 'the President's response to the crisis of unaccompanied children and families fleeing violence and to demand administrative relief for all undocumented families'. Following the rally, the protesters marched in front of the White House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN and ASTRID GALVAN

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) - Children's faces pressed against glass. Hundreds of young boys and girls covered with aluminum foil-like blankets next to chain link fences topped with barbed wire. The pungent odor that comes with keeping people in close quarters.

These were the scenes Wednesday from tours of crowded Border Patrol stations in South Texas and Arizona, where thousands of immigrants are being held before they are transferred to other shelters around the country.

It was the first time the media was given access to the facilities since President Barack Obama called the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally this budget year an "urgent humanitarian situation."

The surge in minors, mostly from Central America, has overwhelmed the U.S. government.

The children pose a particular challenge because the law requires that they be transferred from Border Patrol stations like the ones in Texas and Arizona to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours.

From there, they are sent to shelters for several weeks as the government tries to reunite them with family in the U.S. The network of some 100 shelters around the country has been over capacity for months and is now caring for more than 7,600 children.

The tours were a shift from previous weeks when the government refused to provide basic details about the location of the facilities. But the tours also came with restrictions, such as no interaction with children and no on-the-record conversations with employees.

Inside the Fort Brown station in Brownsville, dozens of young boys were separated from dozens of young girls, with many lying under blankets on concrete floors. Mothers with children still younger were in another cell.

Happier faces could be found in a side yard outside, where young children colored pictures under a camouflage tent.

A group of about a dozen girls of perhaps 5 or 6 sat under another tent outside the shower trailer, dark hair wet and shiny. Women wearing blue gloves combed each girl's hair. Tables held stacks of clean bluejeans, T-shirts and toiletries.

Deeper into the yard, teen girls kicked a soccer ball and tossed a football with workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In Nogales, Arizona, girls playing soccer with two male border agents shrieked when their ball crossed over the chain link fence and away from the small recreational area covered by a white tent. Others playing basketball cheered on their teammates.

Inside, the approximately 1,000 children in the clean, 120,000-square-foot warehouse were silent.

In a roomy area with teenage boys, a large, high-definition TV playing the World Cup went largely ignored. A small group of boys played soccer, but most lay on tiny mattresses and covered themselves with thin, heat-reflective blankets that looked like aluminum foil.

Chain link fences 15 feet tall and topped with barbed wire separated the children by age and gender.

Federal agents said they could not provide an estimate of the number of minors at the facility because the figure is fluid as children transition in and out.

Authorities at the Nogales station have struggled to adjust to their new role as temporary caretakers.

For example, it took a few days of children rejecting breakfast burritos before agents learned that Central Americans aren't accustomed to flour tortillas. FEMA renegotiated its contract with a food vendor to begin receiving corn tortillas instead.

The children are fed three times a day and take turns by group to use the 200-seat dining area.

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