President Donald Trump’s administration is considering opening two new tent cities to detain roughly 1,000 parents and children near the southern border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has already contacted potential contractors about housing 500 people in each camp in two Texas cities that already have tent cities: El Paso and Donna. Donna shares a border with Mexico.
The move comes after sharp criticism over the terrible conditions inside the overflowing tent cities already used to hold migrants.
For example, in El Paso, hundreds of people are detained in tents in the center of a parking lot next to a patrol station. People who are detained there experience prolonged exposure to cold because the Border Patrol lets them have only one warm layer of clothing, confiscates any coats and issues a Mylar blanket to each person for “safety.”
In El Paso’s current growing tent city, there is little room to walk outside and according to California Democrat Rep. Nanette Barragan, people slept on a temporary flooring that covered the asphalt parking lot beneath. There were not even cots for people to sleep on. Babies sometimes slept on their parents’ legs to avoid the hard floor.
Barragan said she saw a mother with her 4-month-old infant who had been there for more than five days in “unhealthy” conditions.
“We were stepping over people to walk around in the tent… And the food is… We’re talking ramen and Cup of Noodles, Capri Suns and juice boxes, maybe a frozen burrito if you’re lucky,” Barragan told the Daily Beast. “I was really taken aback by the smell. I was in there for five minutes and I just became nauseous, I hate to say it. It’s just too many people for that size area and people hadn’t had a shower for many days. Border Patrol told us it was their goal to get people a shower every three days, but the mother I spoke to there hadn’t had one and she’d been there for five.”
The two potential new facilities would try to address these issues. Each facility would have one large tent that would be divided into sections by gender and between families and children traveling solo. They will sleep on mats and have an outdoor fenced-in area for “outside exercise/recreation.”
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the facilities could open in the next two weeks and operate through year-end, with a cost that could reach $37 million. There would also be a place to do laundry and shower.
The same notice from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the department’s resources are heavily strained by the migrants fleeing Central America and requesting asylum. The department made roughly 53,000 apprehensions in March alone of parents and children traveling together, most of whom say they are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.
Lately, the Border Patrol had been directly releasing parents and children instead of giving them to immigration authorities for long-term detention. But families typically wait several days to be processed by the agency inside the detention areas and released.
“Detention is never a good idea for any family… I believe families are victims of a lot of abuse, and we just add to that abuse by the way we respond to handle and process them,” Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, told the Associated Press.