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New processing facility to open for migrants

EL PASO – A year after asylum seekers and other migrants overwhelmed U.S. immigration authorities at the southern border, the Border Patrol is opening a processing facility in Texas that officials say could help it better care for detainees following outcry last year over young children and adults held in squalid, crowded conditions.

“This facility is much better for us (and), most importantly, it’s going to provide the adequate care and necessities for those that are in our custody,” said Chris Clem, deputy chief patrol agent for the El Paso Sector, which covers southern New Mexico and West Texas.

The agency said it plans to open the 1,040-person facility for families as early as this weekend. It gave journalists a tour Tuesday of the solid wall modular buildings that feature play areas for children, showers, laundry facilities and other basic necessities not always available in remote Border Patrol holding centers.

Critics say the expanded space doesn’t address fundamental problems with Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol’s parent agency.

“Absent robust oversight and accountability measures, including meaningful access to counsel and health care professionals, CBP facilities, no matter their label, will remain black holes ripe for abusive conditions,” said Shaw Drake, El Paso-based policy counsel for the Border Rights Center of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

The new facility meant for short-term housing is set to open about six months after the influx of migrants slowed. It comes as the government has virtually prohibited people from seeking asylum by sending them to Guatemala to seek protection there, making people wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings, and doing initial asylum screenings very quickly and with almost no opportunity to consult attorneys.

In May, Border Patrol agents in El Paso were processing large groups of migrants, including one with over 1,000 people, mostly without additional federal resources. Such large groups became infrequent by the fall.

Agents at the new facility will have help from civilians who have been recently hired to care for migrant families, including handing out snacks, doing medical screenings and watching children.

Child “pods” shown to reporters during the tour featured play areas, toys and TVs for cartoons. While the facility is not yet finished, agents said a playground would be built so children could go outside.

A 500-person facility for longer-term housing for child migrants also is opening as early as this spring in El Paso. It will be overseen by the contractor Caliburn International after receiving a grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to a Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber.

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