Border Patrol Wants to Build New Tent to Detain Migrants

May 11, 2019 Updated: May 11, 2019

HOUSTON—The U.S. Border Patrol said Friday, May 10, that it plans to open a second tent facility to detain migrants in South Texas next to one it opened last week.

In a statement, the agency said the 500-person tent it opened in Donna, Texas, is already beyond capacity. The statement cited the large numbers of migrant parents and children crossing into the United States, many of them asylum seekers from Central America.

Photos released by the Border Patrol show dozens of migrants sitting or lying on the grass outside a military-style tent with only Mylar sheets underneath them. Another photo inside a tent shows adults and children huddled underneath the shiny sheets. The agency said it’s also detaining illegal immigrants in the secure entryways, or sally ports, of some of its stations.

President Donald Trump’s administration and immigration agencies argue they are facing a crisis. They have called for $4.5 billion in funding and for Congress to change laws that would allow agencies to detain illegal immigrant families longer and deport them more quickly.

Immigration advocates have accused the Trump administration of wrongly depicting border crossings as a crisis and have called on the U.S. government not to detain asylum seekers.

Unauthorized border crossings have surged since the start of this year. The Border Patrol said it made 98,977 apprehensions for crossing illegally in April, including 58,474 adults and children traveling together, encountering more than 100,000 people overall.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost part of Texas, agents apprehended about 1,600 people daily. Border Patrol currently has more than 8,000 people detained in the sector, more than double its current capacity including the tent in Donna.

Central American migrants traveling in a caravan
Central American migrants traveling in a caravan to the United States border walk on a road in Pijijiapan, Mexico, on April 22, 2019. (Moises Castillo/AP Photo)

Rodolfo Karisch, chief patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley, said in the statement that the agency’s resources “are beyond a breaking point and has put border security at risk.”

House More Immigrants in Tents at the Border

The newest tent cities—in El Paso and in the Rio Grande Valley—will hold 1,000 parents and families, expanding the Border Patrol’s capacity to hold and process the surge of illegal immigrants who have arrived in recent months and overwhelmed authorities. The capacity could be expanded at some point.

The tents will offer bathrooms, recreation areas and sleeping quarters that are divided by gender and by families and children traveling alone. Detainees will sleep on mats.

Border Patrol tent detained migrants 3
A security guard stands near a doorway to a section of a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary facility near the Donna International Bridge in Donna, Texas, on May 2, 2019. (Eric Gay/Photo via AP)
Border Patrol tent detained migrants 1
A Border Patrol agent stands near a stack of mattresses during a media tour of a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary facility near the Donna International Bridge in Donna, Texas, on May 2, 2019. (Eric Gay/Photo via AP)

The tent complex in Donna, Texas, is split into four pods, each labeled a different color. In each pod, a private security guard stands watch. Gray sleeping mats are stacked on one side, and portable toilets and sinks are lined up on another. The air conditioning system keeps each pod at a comfortable temperature, but emits a constant humming that can make it hard to hear.

The tents are set to operate through the end of the year, at a cost of as much as $37 million. A contractor in Rome, New York, obtained the bid to build the tents, which the government calls “soft-sided” shelters.

The Border Patrol’s El Paso sector has become the epicenter of the influx of immigrant families from Central America.

Marlene Castro, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent, speaks to a group of unaccompanied minors and also two men who crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the United States in Hidalgo County, Texas, on May 26, 2017. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

The situation has drawn agents away from their traditional duties of patrolling the border and forced Immigration and Customs Enforcement to refuse to hold immigrants because it does not have enough detention space. ICE is dropping large groups of immigrants at bus stations and cities, including Phoenix, San Antonio, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

But before the immigrants are handed over to ICE or released, the Border Patrol must process them, and the agency is struggling to keep up.

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