MCALLEN, RGV – Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro left soft toys and letters for immigrant children detained at Border Patrol’s Ursula facility.

The former mayor of San Antonio knocked on the door of the facility, which is housing hundreds of Central American children, but was not permitted entry.

“I wanted to leave some letters for the children who are here, along with some stuffed animals,” Castro said, outside the facility.

A Border Patrol official answered through the intercom: “Okay, yeah, we’ll send somebody out there.”

Castro responded: “So, they say they are going to send somebody out here. As you all know, it is not uncommon for folks to say they are going to send somebody out and then not actually send anybody. So, we will see if somebody comes out.”

Nobody came out. 

Castro told reporters that the ystem doesn’t work for anybody.

“It doesn’t work for the children that are separated from the parents. It doesn’t work for these employees that are, a lot of them probably don’t even want to do what they are having to do and are following orders to keep their job,” Castro said.

“And it really doesn’t work for the United States because it’s changing who we are, to treat children this way.”

Castro determined that the best he could do was leave the letters and stuffed animals outside the door, in the hope that Border Patrol would take them in for the children.

“What we’re going to do is that we’re going to leave. Leah and I are going to leave these stuffed animals and these letters right here,” Castro said. 

“And what we hope is that these children that are feeling very, very, alone right now, that are separated from their parents, that are traumatized, will find a little bit of comfort in knowing that people are thinking about them and that people love them and that people want them to be reunited, they’re fighting for them to be reunited with their family.”

Castro joined hundreds of Rio Grande Valley residents and a number of members of Congress from around the country to protest the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy towards immigration.

The policy has ripped a couple of thousand Central American parents seeking asylum from their children. 

Among the U.S. senators to protest across the street from Border Patrol’s Processing Center on W. Ursula Avenue in McAllen were Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. 

Among the U.S. Representatives present were Filemon Vela of Brownsville, Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, Peter Welch of Vermont, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston.

The lawmakers said they had come to the Rio Grande Valley to “investigate” President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new policy of separating children from their families when those families cross the border to seek asylum in the United States.

The trip followed Merkley’s initial visit to investigate the family separation policy on June 3. On that trip, the Oregon lawmaker was able to tour a Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, but was barred from entering a children’s detention facility in Brownsville. 

On this trip, the members were able to tour the Brownsville facility, as well as several other sites in the area that relate to the family separation policy. Those sites included Hidalgo International Bridge, which was reported to be “slow-walking” the entry process for asylum seekers who are trying to legally enter the U.S. 

It appeared Saturday evening that Border Patrol had speeded up the process, perhaps because of the congressional visit, because there were only about six Cubanos waiting on the bridge. Before there were often 100-plus waiting on the bridge.

“I am here to join all these organizations behind me In their efforts to oppose the president’s zero tolerance policy,” Congressman Vela told the Rio Grande Guardian, across the street from the Border Patrol Processing Center on W. Ursula Avenue in McAllen.

“What is happening in America today is that for thousands of migrant children, the American Dream has turned into the American Nightmare. That is the direct result of the president’s zero tolerance policy.”

Asked if the Trump Administration has introduced the zero tolerance policy in order to get Democrats to compromise on immigration reform or to send a message to Central American families thinking of seeking asylum, Vela said:

“No question the president believes he is sending a message to people in Central America that they are not welcome here. But there are those of us who believe that people who are fleeing horrible conditions in Central America deserve a right to asylum in this country.”

Samantha Guerrera, a Rio Grande Valley resident, pointed out that the zero tolerance policy could be ended tomorrow, if the Trump Administration would listen to border residents.

“It is in the hands of the administration to stop separating families today. We are out here in a vigil today to bring to light these separations,” Guerrera told the Rio Grande Guardian.

She said vigil demonstrated that Valley residents are “against these detention centers, against the separation of families, against the terror that is placed in our communities. It has got to end.”

The full itinerary for the fact-finding tour included visiting the Border Patrol Processing Center on W. Ursula Avenue in McAllen, visiting the Border Patrol Station on W. Military Highway in McAllen, visiting the Hidalgo Port of Entry on International Boulevard in Hidalgo, visiting the Health & Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement Brownsville Southwest Key Casa Padre Facility, and visiting the CE ERO Port Isabel Detention Center.

Editor’s Note: Rio Grande Guardian video reporter Jacqueline Arias contributed to the above story from McAllen, Texas. She also provided the photos in the slideshow accompanying the story.