Spring surge of migrants stresses border facilities
Some of the children detained under the bridge in El Paso, Texas, hide their faces in their hands, shielding themselves from the blowing dust. Behind the razor wire, families sit on gravel littered with paper cups, potato chip bags and torn Mylar blankets.
“This place looks like a concentration camp, and we’re not supposed to have that in America,” said David Casillas, 44, a disabled veteran who tried to donate baby food on Friday to the hundreds of migrant families peering out through the fence. Border Patrol agents turned him away.
The makeshift encampment under the bridge, where immigration officials are detaining hundreds of migrants in a military tent with little hot food, was set up last week after the main border processing center in El Paso reached up to 400 percent of its capacity in the largest influx of migrants to the United States in years.
Similar scenes are unfolding at border stations across the 1,900-mile frontier, where Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said last week that facilities had reached a “breaking point.”
The Border Patrol has been facing a record influx of migrant families since fall, but in recent weeks the numbers have begun to escalate substantially, thanks to the annual surge before the arrival of the deadly summer heat.
The influx has stretched every government agency on the front lines, from the Border Patrol, whose agents encounter migrants after they cross, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose officers normally process them for detention or release, as well as the Health and Human Services Department, charged with the care of children who come across the border without families.
In response to the surge, hundreds of agents are being diverted from ports of entry, where they facilitate international trade, to help process migrants. Immigration officers are being redeployed to the border from duties in the interior, and the government is trying to quickly expand capacity at shelters that take in migrant children.
President Donald Trump threatened Friday to close the southern border next week, a day after he criticized Mexico and several Central American countries for not stanching the exodus.
“If Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States through our southern border, I will be closing the border, or large sections of the border, next week,” the president said on Twitter.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection set up a makeshift encampment under Paso del Norte International Bridge in El Paso, Texas, after the main border processing center in El Paso reached up to 400 percent of its capacity.