Civil Rights Groups Call For Investigation Into Outdoor Detention Facility In El Paso
As families seeking asylum continue to be released, the American Civil Liberties Union Border Rights Center and ACLU of Texas are calling for an investigation into the conditions at a temporary U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility in El Paso.
Over the weekend, families were housed under the Paso del Norte bridge. The makeshift facility was surrounded by barbed wire fence. Officials say the influx of families, mostly from Latin America, and the lack of space in detention facilities left them no choice.
On Sunday, Customs and Border Protection announced in a statement that it would remove migrants from the outdoor facility, which had been in operation since early March. The migrants were relocated to another facility.
The ACLU complaint, which was sent to the Department of Homeland Security and CBP, calls for an immediate end to what it describes as the caging of immigrants in outdoor holding facilities and demands an investigation into the treatment of the migrants. Some spent up to four nights under the bridge.
The report calls the conditions in which migrants were held "abusive" and "inhumane" claiming that migrants were detained outdoors in cool temperatures with Mylar sheets and lacked adequate food, water and medical care.
"Families were held outdoors in caged areas, forced to sleep in the dirt and on the rocks underneath the international bridge," said Shaw Drake, the policy counsel for the ACLU Border Rights Center.
Drake said the complaint stems from reports of migrants who have been released from the facility.
"We heard accounts of Border Patrol verbally abusing migrants, insulting pregnant women, turning down or refusing to respond to requests for medical attention to young children who were feverish," Shaw said.
Wilson Avila and his 15-year-old son were in the encampment for four days. Avila told Texas public media reporting fellow Sierra Juarez that the migrants were not given much food and that the sandwiches border officials gave them made him sick. The nights were especially difficult because of the cold, he said.
"When we were under the bridge, you wouldn't be able to imagine it. I almost cried," Avila said in Spanish. "We were cold, and we said that so they would give us a bit of nylon. I said 'Lord, help me, Father.' We suffered a lot."
During a press conference in El Paso last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said CBP was "facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis."
"We are now on pace for over 100,000 apprehensions and encounters with migrants in March, with 90 percent of those, 90,000 people, crossing the border illegally between ports of entry. March will be the highest month since 2008," McAleenan said.
Drake said the ACLU is now waiting to see if the Office of the Inspector General will open an investigation into the temporary facility.