Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
EL PASO – The U.S. Border Patrol has opened two new massive tent facilities – one in El Paso and one in Donna, Texas – for the unprecedented number of migrant families and unaccompanied children arriving at the border.
“We have so many people coming in, we don’t have space at our stations to adequately process those people,” said Roger Maier, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The El Paso sector, which includes all of New Mexico, has 11 Border Patrol stations with a capacity to hold 1200 individuals according to CBP. For months, they have been overcrowded because so many migrants are crossing the border, turning themselves in to agents and asking for asylum.
“So this is a reaction to that in order to provide more space for Border Patrol to process these hundreds of people, sometimes more than 1,000 a day, that we’re getting in the El Paso sector in a way that is going to be humane,” Maier said.
The two facilities cost about $37 million to build.
Border Patrol agents guided members of the media through the El Paso facility Thursday as air conditioners hummed. The multiple large “soft-sided” structures, which can house up to 500 individuals, included sleeping quarters with dozens of mats piled up in corners.
“Everybody who comes into this facility will be screened medically,” said Border Patrol agent Ramiro Cordero. He pointed to an area partitioned off where medical personnel would see migrants.
There were portable chemical toilets and multiple shower stalls in another section.
“Everybody that steps foot in this facility will have the opportunity to shower,” Cordero said.
Two additional trailers, filled with giant washing machines and dryers, will serve as laundry rooms. There were also eight baby-changing stations and a supply room with nonperishable snacks.
A closed-circuit camera would provide additional security and migrants would be tracked throughout their stay at the temporary facility while Border Patrol works to works to open a large permanent processing center in El Paso.
On the same day the temporary structure opened in El Paso, the federal government provided a tour of a second facility, in Donna, Texas, that can accommodate up to 500 migrants. A New York company, Deployed Resources LLC, built the facilities for $36.9 million and has a four-month contract with the possibility of an extension if necessary.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the “temporary structures” would be weatherproof and climate-controlled and will serve as holding facilities for parents with their children until they are transferred to ICE, or in the case of unaccompanied children, the Department of Health and Human Services, usually within 72 hours. Many of the adult migrants are later released on their own recognizance with ankle monitors to track them until their asylum cases are decided in immigration court.
Border Patrol agents from October through March took 189,584 families and 35,898 unaccompanied children into custody. Most are from Central America and come seeking asylum.
During the same period in the El Paso sector, 53,565 parents with kids and 7,565 children on their own crossed the border and turned themselves in to agents. This week has been especially busy in New Mexico, with agents taking more than 1,100 migrant families and children into custody in Antelope Wells and Sunland Park.
The continuous influx has led to overcrowded holding cells that were designed for adult individuals. At one point, families were crammed into an open-air pen underneath an international bridge in downtown El Paso for nearly a week.
The enormous tent holding facilities unveiled Thursday are expected to provide some relief for Border Patrol, but agents will continue to struggle to manage the large number of migrants in custody, which routinely exceeds 10,000 according to CBP.
“We’re basically being driven to this because of the ongoing crisis, and there appears to be no end in sight,” Maier said.