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A firsthand look at the horrors of immigration detention

Dozens of women, men and their children, many fleeing poverty and violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, arrive at a bus station after being released from Customs and Border Protection on Saturday in McAllen, Tex.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

 By Allyson Hobbs and Ana Raquel Minian

We arrived at a drab and nondescript building near Ursula Avenue and Ware Road in McAllen, Tex., by relying on vague directions and word of mouth. No one would imagine that this building is the epicenter of the current immigration detention crisis. The 77,000-square-foot facility is framed by palm trees and surrounded by warehouses. It does not have an official address, nor does it show up on Google maps. As historians who study race, detention and migration, we came here because we wanted to understand what is happening at ground zero.

Life in McAllen remains largely unchanged despite the national outcry that has ensued. Photographs and audio of inconsolable children crying for their parents, housed in what Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) described as “cages” and “dog kennels,” have shocked the nation. Pediatricians and child psychologists reported that these conditions would lead to long-term trauma and attachment disorders.


How could it be possible for everyday life to remain the same for most of McAllen’s residents amid this humanitarian crisis?