Earlier this week, shocking photos emerged from El Paso, TX, where hundreds of migrants were apparently being kept in an enclosure under a bridge, fenced in by barbed wire. According to Customs and Border Patrol, the holding area had been open for about a month, due to overflowing capacity at other processing centers. CBP called it a “transitional shelter,” but it was unclear how long migrants were being kept in the area and in what conditions.
Now, appalling reports are beginning to emerge from the patch of gravel and dirt under the bridge. According to a report from The Guardian, migrants were kept in the lot for days at a time with no shelter, nothing to sleep on, and little food or supplies.
The lot contained one large tent, but migrants detained there told BuzzFeed it wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone held there. Thus, many families were left outside in the elements, battered by wind and dust. Some were given foil thermal blankets, but even those were in short supply. All of those held in the lot were forced to sleep directly on the ground.
Many migrants told BuzzFeed and The Guardian that conditions in the processing center were even worse than those they experienced on their journey to the border.
“It’s hell there,” M. Gonzalez, a Honduran migrant who stayed under the bridge, told BuzzFeed. “The bridge is one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced.”
Gonzalez, who spent about four days under the bridge, said the wind would funnel underneath it at night, making it feel dramatically colder. Their lips would chap and crack, he said, pointing to the pieces of peeling skin on his lips.
Droppings from the pigeons perched on the inside of the bridge fell on detainees, he said. Gonzalez said kids were constantly crying and some looked like they were about to faint.
From The Guardian:
Once they got to the US border they were held under the bridge from Monday evening until Thursday afternoon. “We were hardly able to sleep, the earth was so hard, it was very tiring,” she said. “There were so many young babies crying, a lot of the children were sick with coughing, diarrhea, eye infections.”
“We were hungry all the time,” her son said. “They gave me a cold baloney sandwich at four in the morning, and then another cold baloney sandwich at 1pm, and that was it.”
CBP says that this kind of brutal detainment is necessary because of the number of people currently crossing the border.
“That breaking point has arrived this week at our border. CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis all along our southwest border,” CBP head Kevin McAleenan said at a press conference last week.
But the crisis is not unprecedented. The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended at the border every year was much higher at the turn of the millennium than it is today.
Many of the migrants who were kept under the bridge are being released directly into the U.S., not into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, as is the regular protocol. ICE says their facilities are over capacity and the new migrants can’t be accommodated.
The Trump administration has responded to this crisis by fueling some of its causes. They threatened yesterday to cut aid to Central American countries where many of the migrants originate. Trump has also warned this week that he may entirely close the border between the U.S. and Mexico, which would severely disrupt the economic relationship between the two countries.
Some politicians have blamed the Trump administration directly for the increased chaos on the border.
“This administration has made a challenge into chaos because of the policies that they have chosen to enact,” Rep. Veronica Escobar, who replaced Beto O’Rourke as the House representative from El Paso, told The Guardian. “Having people corralled under a bridge out in the elements with half of them being children is absolutely inhumane and unacceptable and is not representative of who we are as a country and is not reflective of the kind of resources that Congress has given CBP and homeland security.”
On Sunday, it appeared that the enclosure under the bridge had been cleared, according to the New York Times. But this may just mean that the processing has been moved to another similar site on the other side of the bridge.
A spokesman for CBP said that they were “in the process of transferring all of the illegal aliens being held temporarily” at the site. They say the goal is “to relocate to a location with more space and more shelter capability.”
“If [CBP] wanted to prepare for this, they could have done so,” Fernando Garcia, director of the El Paso organization Border Network for Human Rights, told the Times. “The administration could have redirected resources, assigned more asylum agents, looked at what was happening on the ground.”
The ACLU called the enclosure “an unprecedented and extreme violation” and alleged that Border Patrol agents had abused migrants kept in the lot.
“We are demanding an immediate investigation by the inspector general into abuses inflicted on asylum seekers by Border Patrol agents in the outdoor facilities,” Shaw Drake, policy attorney for the ACLU’s border rights center, told the Times.