With the large surge of Central American families and unaccompanied children arriving in El Paso in the last year, officials with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have exceeded their capacity on numerous occasions.
In order to respond to the large number of families and unaccompanied children crossing illegally along the U.S./Mexico Border between Texas and New Mexico, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened two facilities, which are ready for use immediately.
Members of the media were given a tour of the facilities on Thursday.
One of the facilities is located in Northeast El Paso, behind the main headquarters of the El Paso sector, and the second is located in Donna, Texas which is near McAllen.
According to the U.S. Border Patrol, apprehensions for unauthorized immigrants in the El Paso sector have increased by more than 300 percent.
Additional complications occur when the CBP’s current holding facilities are primarily meant for unaccompanied men, not family units.
This has led to national attention and criticism regarding how and where CBP temporarily holds the Central American immigrants while they wait to be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the Department of Homeland Security if they are unaccompanied minors or Non-Governmental Organizations such as nonprofits such as churches and the Annunciation House of El Paso.
“There are not enough agents on the line,” Ramiro Cordero, Border Patrol Agent and Special Operations Supervisor said. “The agents are now processing aliens, processing families. Escorting individuals to hospitals, transporting, feeding, changing diapers – that is not the job of a Border Patrol agent. So, we are moving on – so we are building facilities such as what you see behind me to alleviate and help the process flow a little bit smoother and quicker.”
The facilities – known as “soft-sided temporary” facilities – are provided by Deployed Resources LLC of Rome, New York, according to the CBP. They are currently contracted for a cost of $36.9 million for a four-month base period; with an additional four months if needed.
Cordero said when an individual is taken to the facility, they will enter the small support soft-sided building first – which is approximately 12,300 square feet. There they will enter, and be medically screened upon arrival.
From there, they can use the shower facilities, which contain 32 stalls; which are divided into two separate sections for men and women.
If a family unit arrives and they need to bathe their children, CBP will not get involved in the process, but will allow the parent to decide how the child should be bathed.
Then they will be issued bracelets which will have designated colors. The colors will direct them to the temporary holding facility.
The holding facility is broken up into 4 sections and each section can hold up to 125 individuals.
Each section, or pod, contains 8 porta-potty toilets, with the ventilation leading outside. The toilets are going to be cleaned daily by outside contracted companies. Additionally, each facility has 4-hand washing stations; and 125 vinyl covered sleeping pads as well.
In the center of each pod stands a 7-foot guard tower which will be staffed 24-7.
Each pod will contain at least 1 medical technician, a doctor and a medical professional who will either be contracted or who will be a certified EMT or Medically licensed CBP officer or U.S. Coast Guard member.
The pods are air conditioned and each pod will have video surveillance. There are cameras on each corner of the pods.
There is also a laundry trailer with 40 washers and dryers; storage containers for detainee property; two 1,200 KVA generators for electrical services; and a refrigerated trailer for food storage and preparation.
According to the CBP agents, the El Paso sector alone has apprehended 94,000 individuals since October 1 of last year; compared to 13,000 individuals in the previous year during the same time frame. That’s an average of about 580 apprehensions a day Cordero said.
Roger Maier, spokesperson for the U.S. CBP, said on average they are processing 600 to 850 individuals per day.
On Wednesday alone, Border Patrol agents took custody of 243 immigranats, made up of family groups with small children and unaccompanied juveniles. This group was picked up at around 1:30 a.m. near the Antelope Wells port of entry in New Mexico.
Just 40 minutes later agents apprehended another group of 219 people at the border wall near downtown El Paso. Then on Thursday morning another 209 immigrants were apprehended yet again at Antelope Wells.
These facilities, Cordero said, will help. And, ideally – Maier said – an individual should be turned over to the appropriate agency within 72 hours.
“This is something we are doing because we have gotten to capacity,” Cordero said. “We have already exceeded our capacity and we need to have this in place so we can have people in humane places and we can transfer them in and out of the process. We at the border patrol are the first interaction – the first piece of the puzzle – our job is to enforce the law and our job is to process them and turn these individuals to someone else – in this case ICE enforcement removal operations.”
While the facility is currently meant to house family units, Cordero added that this could change in the future – depending on the situation and the circumstances.
Earlier this year the CPB and the U.S. General Services Administration had proposed to build a facility that would house as many as 800 people, which according to media reports, could have been the Hoover Manufacturing Facility.
But a group of business leaders in El Paso launched a campaign against the move under a Change.org petition, Action El Paso, asking the federal government to include city leaders in the conversation.
According to the petition business leaders are asking the following be adhered to before the GSA and CBP move forward with constructing the facility:
The community must be allowed to provide input on where the facility will be built. The federal government cannot come in and uproot El Pasoans’ quality of life, regional economy, and community cohesion for its own gains.
The community must have assurances regarding how this center will be staffed. We have seen too many instances where inadequate staffing has resulted in neglect and mistreatment of children and families.
The community must have assurances regarding how the health and well-being of families held in the processing center will be prioritized. It is a travesty that families are denied fundamental rights and basic dignities, such as a bed and access to health services, because processing facilities have been so poorly planned.
When asked about this, Maier said he wasn’t sure what the status of the facility was at the moment.
“That was a centralized processing center that we were looking to stand up – but that’s taking longer than expected for a number of reasons – so this (temporary soft sided shelter) is our quick response to that. But that’s still in the works – yes.”
Author: Alex Hinojosa | Gallery: Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald Post
President Donald Trump’s administration said Monday it will begin returning more migrants to Mexico after they apply for asylum in the U.S. and ordered Customs and Border Protection officials to speed up the redeployment of agents to help the Border Patrol process a growing surge of migrants arriving at the border.
Last week, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said 750 CBP agents would be pulled from their regular positions at the ports of entry in El Paso, Laredo, Tucson and San Diego to assist Border Patrol. On Monday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen told CBP to accelerate the reallocation and consider reassigning more officers.
“CBP is directed to explore raising that target, is authorized to exceed it, and shall notify the Secretary if reassignments are planned to exceed 2,000 personnel,” the DHS said in a news release.
The announcement is in response to a surge of mostly Central American families and unaccompanied minors crossing the border andseeking asylum. From Oct. 1, when the federal government’s current fiscal year began, through February, about 136,150 family units were apprehended on the southwest border — an increase of about 340% from the same period in fiscal year 2018, when about 31,100 families were apprehended, according to CBP statistics. The largest increase occurred in the El Paso sector, where about 36,300 family units were apprehended — a 1,689% increase from the same period last year, when 2,030 were apprehended.
Nielsen also ordered CBP officials to expandthe Migrant Protection Protocols program that began in El Paso last month. Under the program, asylum seekers are required to wait on the other side of the Rio Grande until they are granted hearings before a U.S. immigration judge.
Last week, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, told reporters that six people had been returned to Mexico under the program Friday. Nielsen has instructed Customs and Border Protection to try to return“hundreds of additional migrants per day.”
“The crisis at our border is worsening, and DHS will do everything in its power to end it,” Nielsen said in a statement.
The move comes after the El Paso sector of the U.S. Border Patrol shuttered a temporary holding facility it erected last month under the Paso Del Norte bridge in downtown El Paso, where hundreds of migrants were heldbehind razor wire and chain-link fencing and slept in a military-style tent as they waitedto be processed. It’s unclear whether the facility will reopen.
Nielsen’s directive comes as the president continues to threaten to close the southern border in retaliation for what he says is Mexico’s unwillingness to stem the flow of migrants traveling through that country. He also announced over the weekend he plans to cut off U.S. aid to the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala unless they take steps to keep their citizens from migrating to the U.S.
The Texas Border Coalition, a group of mayors, county judges and economic development officials from the region, said closing the ports of entry at the border would create an economic crisis.
“President Trump’s threat to close the border would be catastrophic and immediate, not just for border communities but also for the nation as a whole,” said TBC Chairman and Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz. “Closing the border would cause an immediate depression in border state communities and, depending on the duration, a recession in the rest of the country.”
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) delivered remarks on Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) response to human trafficking and illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below, and video can be found above.
“We know that CBP is facing unprecedented challenges today, and I applaud your efforts as well as the men and women who work with you who are on the front lines of this challenge on a daily basis.”
“We see hashtags that call what the president and others have described as a ‘fake emergency’ at the border. But in order to believe that there’s a fake emergency at the border, you have to be blind to the facts or simply unwilling to listen.”
“I feel particularly strongly about this topic because of where I live and the state I represent. We have 1,200 miles of common border with Mexico.”
“As you know, Mr. Commissioner, CBP announced that more than 76,000 people crossed the border in February alone. 76,000 in one month. This is the largest monthly total in more than a decade.”
“Compared to this time last year, family unit apprehensions have increased 209 percent in the Rio Grande Valley sector. Family unit apprehensions have increased 497 percent in the Del Rio sector. And most staggering, in the El Paso sector, overall apprehensions have increased 434 percent while family unit apprehensions have increased an incredible 1,639 percent.”
“This is not a crisis, people say?”
“I hear absolutely no suggestions from our Democratic friends on how to deal with the causes of these problems.”
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.