Bleak images emerged today from El Paso, TX, where it’s been reported that hundreds of migrants are being held in the parking lot of a Customs and Border Patrol facility under a bridge.
BuzzFeed reports that CBP head Kevin McAleenan spoke at a press conference in El Paso, not far from the encampment, calling the current situation a “humanitarian crisis.”
“That breaking point has arrived this week at our border. CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis all along our southwest border,” McAleenan said.
The migrants are apparently being held in this parking lot because there’s nowhere else for them to go. According to CBP, they are being provided with food, water, and medical evaluations.
“The tent that is set up underneath the Paso Del Norte port of entry and adjacent to the Border Patrol’s Processing Facility is a transitional shelter. Due to the large volume of apprehensions within the El Paso Station’s Area of Responsibility, the agency has undertaken additional measures to facilitate processing,” a CBP spokesperson told BuzzFeed.
“As illegal aliens arrive at the processing facility, they are placed at the ‘tent’ to await their turn to be processed. This tent serves only as a transitional shelter and is not a temporary housing facility. It was established within the last month,” the spokesperson continued.
McAleenan warned that the situation could get worse, as more families continue to cross the border. This month, it’s expected that a total of 50,000 families will cross, the highest number since CBP began recording in 2012.
Border Patrol has recently started releasing migrants rather than keeping them in custody or sending them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. CBP officials say they don’t want to keep families in overcrowded detention facilities.
Medical care of migrants has also become a problem for CBP.
Now, 40% of Border Patrol agents are caring for medical issues along the border, including watching for potential emergencies that need hospital care. In recent days, agents have seen babies with fevers of 105 degrees, a 2-year-old who suffered a seizure in the desert, a 19-year-old woman who needed life-saving surgery, and a 40-year-old man who had multiple organ failure, McAleenan said.
He said his agents were trying to prevent a “tragedy” at their facilities — but he predicted that the high numbers and severe medical issues meant it was just a “matter of time” before one occurred.
McAleenan says he is reassigning 750 CBP officers to help process migrants on the border. But this could hold up processing times in other areas, like port crossings.
McAleenan said that he blames the overcrowding on the American asylum system, which prevents families from being held in detention for long periods of time, calling it a “broken framework” that Congress needs to fix.
In the past, undocumented immigrants were mostly single adults from Mexico. Now, Central American families dominate. The overwhelmed system is largely the result of migrants fleeing instability and poverty in countries like Guatemala and Honduras.
The numbers of unaccompanied minors crossing will also remain high. CBP expects to detain 9,000 to 15,000 unaccompanied minors in the next several months.
But this is not an “unprecedented crisis.” The number of border crossings today is still dwarfed by the number seen at the peak in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. In 2000, arrests at the border reached 1.6 million.