Why a man camped outside a facility for migrant kids in an RV - and what he found

A Brooklyn software developer has found himself in Tornillo, Texas, hoping to learn as much as he can about children held at a controversial detention center. It was opened last June as a way to accommodate what officials called a dramatic increase in kids who crossed the U.S. border alone.

The Tornillo detention center will soon become the largest in a network of 100 shelters for migrant children. At its peak, more than 2,800 were housed there.

When the family separation crisis gained national attention, 66-year-old Joshua Rubin made a few trips to Tornillo. Eventually he wanted to see what would happen if he stayed for an extended period of time and decided to camp out in an RV. 

After nearly four months, he called the detention center a "prison."

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Joshua Rubin outside the Tornillo detention center. CBS News

"When I got here, you know, a lot of the employees would come out. They weren't supposed to talk to me," he said. "They'd say, 'Hey, they've got it great in there, you know? They're eating great. They get to play. They're warm. They got new clothes.' And, you know I would say, 'And can they leave?'"

"It doesn't matter how much ice cream they give ya. It doesn't change that fact," he said.

Rubin said it's hard to know what goes on inside the detention center. It's obvious the kids are allowed to go outside to play soccer. But he said he sees other things that concern him.

"I also see them led around single-file. I also can see, with my binoculars, that a kid can't even go to the bathroom by himself without having a guard with him," Rubin said.

As CBS News toured the grounds outside the facility with Rubin, a homeland security helicopter and two border patrol vehicles approached. Rubin managed to talk to some of the kids through a fence, even though they were instructed not to talk to him. One boy said he had been there for four months, and another said six months.

"I'm not out here to say that they're not feeding them well, and they're not trying to take care of them," Rubin said. "But they're not providing the kind of mental health care that these kids need. They've been traumatized by their journeys from home, by the time spent in other detention centers and by interminably long stays here."

Mental health is a big concern for Rubin.

"They're in a situation where they have no choice. They're with people who tell them that they're treating them great and you know, it's a situation that they can't get out of," he said.

Rubin left the area on Monday, since the detention center is closing. But others remain, vowing to stay until the center is completely shut down. 

Rubin's activism is at the center of a documentary called The Boys of Tornillo.

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Joshua Rubin speaks with kids held at the Tornillo detention center as they play soccer. CBS News