Trump has repeatedly said he would close the U.S. border with Mexico during his two years in office and has not followed through. However, this time the government says it is struggling to deal with a surge of asylum seekers from countries in Central America who travel through Mexico.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other U.S. officials say border patrol officers have been overwhelmed by a dramatic increase in asylum seekers, many of them children and families who arrive in large groups fleeing violence and economic hardship in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
The enclosure in El Paso holds migrants crossing the border illegally as they wait to be processed at a nearby Border Patrol station, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Ramiro Cordero said by phone,
How long they remain in the enclosure, set up late last month below the city’s Paso del Norte International Bridge to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, depends on how many migrants cross the border, he said. “It could be a couple of hours, it could be more than that, it could be overnight, I can’t tell you, it’s just too many people for me to tell you an exact time or time frame,” Cordero said.
He said migrants are now crossing at an average of 570 people per day in the area, the highest rate in more than a decade, according to the Border Patrol, with more than 1,000 arrested in the El Paso sector on Monday alone.
Families and children now form the majority of apprehensions across the Southwest border, with a record 55,000 family units apprehended or encountered in March, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
Migrants at the enclosure are given thermal blankets and can get shelter, food, water and a medical evaluation, officials said. A Reuters photographer saw children sleeping outside in the enclosed area on Sunday night, when the low was around 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius).
El Paso migrant shelters are receiving around 700 people a day from immigration authorities, compared with a previous high of 2,000 a week in late 2018, said Dylan Corbett, director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute which advocates for m migrant rights.
The migrants are in facilities built for far fewer people and designed for single adults who once formed the bulk of arrests, McAleenan said.
March is on track for 100,000 border apprehensions, DHS officials said, which would be the highest monthly number in more than a decade. Most of those people can remain in the United States while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years because of ballooning immigration court backlogs.
Earlier this week, Nielsen warned Congress that the government faces a “system-wide meltdown” as it tries to care for more than 1,200 unaccompanied children and 6,600 migrant families in its custody.
(Production: Lucas Jackson, Jose Luis Gonzalez, Arlene Eiras)