The Texas Monthly article describes deplorable conditions in the makeshift detention area discovered recently by New Mexico State University professor Neal Rosendorf:
Rosendorf described it as “a human dog pound”—one hundred to 150 men behind a chain-link fence, huddled beneath makeshift shelters made from mylar blankets and whatever other scraps they could find to shield themselves from the heat of the sun. “I was able to speak with detainees and take photos of them with their permission,” Rosendorf said in an email. “They told me they’ve been incarcerated outside for a month, that they haven’t washed or been able to change the clothes they were detained in the entire time, and that they’re being poorly fed and treated in general.”
The El Paso Times had similarly harrowing descriptions in an article on Monday:
Mylar blankets were tied to a fence last week to jimmy a narrow shelter against the sun and rain. Trash clung to the chain link. A migrant washed clothes in a 5-gallon bucket one afternoon, as thunderheads threatened in the distance. On Sunday, three Cuban detainees shouted to an El Paso Times reporter that they had been held outside for a month.
“There is no justification for detaining people in this condition,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso), who visited the site Friday. “The current situation is absolutely unacceptable for the migrants and for the agents who work for the federal government, as well.”
In the past, it was known that migrants had been kept in the outdoor enclosure for days at a time, many of them without shelter. The enclosure was described as a temporary processing area by CBP. A two-year-old Guatemalan boy died in May after crossing into the U.S. near the bridge, but it was unclear if he was detained there.
In a statement to Texas Monthly, an official for CBP described the detention area as something of a last resort.
“During the current crisis, U.S. Border Patrol has had to take extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our agents and those in our custody. As such, and to avoid severe overcrowding of USBP temporary holding facilities, every available space which provides both freedom of movement, safety, and security for those in our custody are used as necessary,” the official told Texas Monthly. “Throughout the intake, processing, and holding of those in our custody, some individuals are being held in an area near the [Paso del Norte)] Bridge … Some of those locations are partially outdoors while still providing relief from sun, wind, and inclement weather.”
CBP denied that the migrants have no access to bathing. “However, shower facility use is prioritized for children and vulnerable populations. Clothing is changed or provided as necessary and as available,” the official told Texas Monthly.
Border Patrol blamed “staffing shortfalls” for the conditions when Rosendorf visited. He was able to easily enter the area and speak the migrants for about 15 minutes.
CBP policies recommend keeping migrants in the agency’s detention centers for three days or less. Usually, migrants are only kept in these areas to be processed before moving on to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.
Things could soon get even worse for those held under the bridge. The weather report for El Paso predicts temperatures in the 90s and 100s over the next few weeks.