Satellite images taken on April 25, 2019 show rapid construction of migrant tent jails intended to house families and children at Border Patrol stations in El Paso and Donna, Texas.
In mid-April, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contracted with New York-based Deployed Resources, LLC to erect “temporary (8 months) soft-sided facilities” meant to give CBP “additional capacity to accommodate family units and UAC [unaccompanied children] arriving in surging numbers to the southwest border,” housing up to 500 people at each location.
“At a time when humanitarian needs are stretched dangerously thin, CBP is spending almost $40 million dollars on new tent jails to hold families and children,” said Clara Long, senior researcher in the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “Children and families should not be detained, particularly by an agency with such a horrendous track record on respect for detained migrants’ basic rights.”
In March, US officials apprehended over 103,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border, including many families seeking asylum in the United States. Most families are released in border towns to travel on to their destination in the US where they will go before an immigration judge to decide their case. Nonprofit and religious groups along the border have struggled to respond to the humanitarian needs of these recently released families.
The new tents appear aimed at increasing the number of families and children CBP can detain. A Border Patrol official told the New York Times the agency could hold families up to 20 days.
The images analyzed by Human Rights Watch show that since April 14, 2019, two days after the government’s contracting notice, three large structures were erected at the El Paso and Donna, Texas Border Patrol stations. On Friday, the CBP solicited bids from contractors for crowd control barricades and metal fences at the Donna, Texas site meant to detain and partition with chain-link fences the unaccompanied children the agency is expecting to keep there.
“Instead of doubling-down on detention facilities, the government should be investing in a truly humanitarian response at the border,” Long said. “Nonprofits and religious groups already receiving migrants after their time in CBP custody have a lot to teach the government about how a compassionate and humanitarian response might be structured.”