Government to house more immigrants in tents at the border

Published 8:08 am Friday, May 3, 2019

EL PASO, Texas — About 50 asylum seekers stood this week in a circle near a bridge between the U.S. and Mexico to hear an American attorney explain what would happen to them when they entered U.S. custody.

The attorney, Jodi Goodwin, told them they would probably end up at one of the Border Patrol’s smaller stations, which migrants call “la hielera” — Spanish for icebox because of their cold temperatures.

Goodwin advised them to wear their heaviest clothing or borrow clothes from someone else, and to eat a hearty meal before crossing the bridge. In a carrying voice, she repeated in Spanish, “Eat well and dress well.”

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The advice reflects reality on the border, where a lack of space means some immigrants must sleep on floors in Border Patrol stations, while others are held in military-style tents next to an El Paso bridge. The government will soon open two more that could start taking immigrants Thursday.

The newest tent cities — in El Paso and in the Rio Grande Valley — will hold 1,000 parents and families, expanding the Border Patrol’s capacity to hold and process the surge of immigrants who have arrived in recent months and overwhelmed authorities. The capacity could be expanded at some point.

“I hope it’s enough,” said Carmen Qualia, executive officer for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

The tents will offer bathrooms, recreation areas and sleeping quarters that are divided by gender and by families and children traveling alone. Detainees will sleep on mats.

The tent complex in Donna, Texas, is split into four pods, each labeled a different color. In each pod, a private security guard stands watch.