Trump Administration Plans New Tents For Migrants In El Paso And Donna

Each tent would hold an estimated 500 people, and is intended for short-term stays to process mostly families seeking asylum.

By Jill AmentApril 17, 2019 7:04 am

The Trump administration plans to erect two new tent facilities to hold migrants at the Texas border with Mexico.

Nomaan Merchant, who reports on immigration for the Associated Press, says Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, recently reached out to potential contractors about new tents in El Paso, and in Donna in the Rio Grande Valley. He says each tent would hold about 500 people for short-term stays, and CBP plans to build them soon.

“CBP intends to have the facilities up and running by the end of this month,” Merchant says. “It would have an operating period of May through, possibly, the end of this year.”

Merchant says CBP, the federal agency that oversees the Border Patrol, estimates it would cost a total of $37 million to operate both facilities for eight months.

These tent facilities wouldn’t be the first ones along the Texas-Mexico border. Merchant says there are already tents in El Paso.

“Last week, when we had reporters visit those facilities, there were five or so tents in a parking lot of one of the Border Patrol stations in El Paso,” Merchant says.

In Donna, he says another tent facility near the international bridge was used to house migrants during the Obama administration. More recently, it housed soldiers after the Trump administration sent active-duty military personnel to the border in 2018.

Merchant says the tent facility will hold mostly families from Central America who are seeking asylum. The plan is for CBP to process them there, ideally within about 72 hours, which means officials will check their backgrounds, register them in the government’s system and give them a medical screening. But he says families already in CBP detention report being held for longer.

“Normally, Border Patrol would turn these people over to ICE – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – to have them processed and possibly detained for longer,” Merchant says. “But Border Patrol is directly releasing families across the border because … they say they don’t have the capacity.”

So many families are crossing the border that Merchant says Border Patrol is struggling to keep up.

“Generally speaking, it should be a few days, but it often ends up being a lot longer to get processed and released,” Merchant says.

There isn’t an obvious alternative to the tents, he says, because the government wants to process people immediately after they cross the border. And many of the permanent processing facilities near the border are already full.

“Getting people through their pipeline takes time, and they need extra space to be able to do that, and so these tents are the solution that they’ve come up with,” Merchant says.

Officials haven’t yet allowed journalists into the existing tent facilities. But Merchant says California Congresswoman Nanette Barragán reported foul smells and a mother and infant sleeping on the floor with a Mylar blanket.

“These are not ideal places to keep families for really any amount of time – I think everybody will acknowledge that,” Merchant says.

Written by Caroline Covington.