Detained migrants generally are not supposed to spend more than 72 hours at the Centralized Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, per US Customs and Border Protection policy.
But CBP said the average time single adults spend at the processing center is more than 100 hours, the latest sign of how the facility’s limits are being tested.
CNN reported in March that the facility was over capacity. In the intervening months, headlines have warned of a health crisis at the facility, which houses unaccompanied minors, family units and single adults. In May, 32 migrants were diagnosed with influenza.
When CNN returned to the center on Thursday, we found that little has changed since our last visit.
But the level of assistance has grown — personnel from the Coast Guard, Federal Protective Service, US Marshals, National Guard and other Department of Homeland Security were all involved in the processing of migrants.
Official: When funding dries up, ‘this is the result’
No signs on the large warehouse facility denote what it is, apart from small US government logos on some perimeter fencing.
The media tour began in the same place where buses drop off migrants at the sally port of the converted warehouse.
They are offered snacks and drinks before they are processed and screened for medical care. Here, they can also change their clothes. Portable toilets, showers and laundry facilities are also available.
Inside the cavernous space, the center is divided into sections for single adults, families and unaccompanied minors, all behind chain-link fencing.
The lights are never turned off and Customs and Border Protection says the fences allow staff to see what is happening at all times.
The single adults section is in a separate part of the building with no beds or mats on the concrete floor, just a few benches. The migrants also receive mylar blankets, which CBP said is for sanitary reasons.
There were 344 single adults at the facility. On average, this population is spending 100 hours there, according to CBP.
Why do single adults remain at the facility for so long? “When [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] does not receive funding — this is the result,” Carmen Qualia, US Border Patrol acting executive officer for law enforcement operational programs, told the group of visiting reporters.
Qualia blamed the back up of migrants inside the facility on the inability to transfer migrants into ICE custody, inferring more funding was need to to that.
Generally, single adults and families who are arrested by Border Patrol, are processed, then transferred to ICE custody for deportation or release. However, earlier this year Border Patrol began directly releasing migrant families with a notice to appear in court. This has eased some of the wait times for families in in the facility, Qualia said.
More than 40,000 family members have been released in the Rio Grande Valley since March, when the releases began, to a bus stations or the nearby Catholic Charities shelter, she added.
Unaccompanied children are taken into custody by a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.
She added that daily apprehensions in the Rio Grade Valley sector average 1,500 migrants.
“We way surpassed what we thought we would have in apprehensions,” she said.
A play area beyond the chain-link fence
When CNN toured the center, there were around 1,900 people total, in a space designed for 1,500, which included more than 400 unaccompanied children and around 1,200 family members. However, these numbers fluctuate daily. Unlike in the area for single adults, green gym mats are on the floor for families and children to rest on.
On the side of the facility beyond the chain-link cells, six young children played in an area resembling a mini-daycare with a play mat, toys and a stroller. CBP said the average stay for families at this time is 48-72 hours, and under 70 hours for unaccompanied children.
Last week, the facility had “hundreds” of unaccompanied children who were not able to be moved into HHS custody, Qualia said.
Children have stayed in this facility beyond the 72 hour mark, she said.
Highlighting the strain on resources, Qualia said that CBP is spending $1.2 million on food per month for the entire Rio Grande Valley region — spending more overall this year than “ever anticipated.”