US to spend $80m on tent cities for migrants on Mexican border

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service has awarded New York contractor Deployed Resources two $40m contracts to erect "soft sided" holding facilities for families and unaccompanied children, one at the Donna port of entry on the Mexican border and another with the same specifications in El Paso.

John Sanders, a senior official with the CBP, commented: "These temporary facilities will support our efforts to process, care for and transfer the unprecedented number of families and unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally each day."

The facilities will mostly consist of tents, each with a capacity of 500 people. The CBP says the tents may be in operation by 1 May, and will be used for an initial period of four months, followed by one-month extensions.

They are intended to detain migrants until they can be transferred to the custody of either Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Donna facility will occupy 2ha of land and will be surrounded by a 2.1m-high perimeter fence topped with barbed wire and at least 40 security cameras, according to a document detailing the project’s scope of work. There will also be a 2.1m high guardhouse located in the centre of the facility.

Each migrant will have 5.6 sq m of personal space, which will have to accommodate a bed mat, toilets, showers and "staff supervision space". There will also be a "holding portion" with 40 showers, chemical toilets and washer-dryers. The kitchen will have four refrigerators and microwave ovens.

A second tent facility with the same specifications will be constructed in El Paso.

Kevin McAleenan, acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a news conference at the border town of Hidalgo that the tents were necessary because the flow of migrants had "changed dramatically and the facilities, resources and the legal authorities we have are not able to address the challenges we are seeing".

However, according to data released by Border Patrol, the current influx is well below previous years. Border Patrol reported a total of 396,579 apprehensions last year, compared with 876,704 in 2007 and more than 1.5 million in 1999.

The US government had previously built a tent city at the Tornillo point of entry which was used to house 1,300 children by September last year.

This facility, now closed, was criticised for the conditions experienced by the migrants, particularly with regard to the heat.

Texas senator José Rodríguez, commented in June, said: "You are talking about placing children in tents in the desert regions of West Texas? It is totally inhumane and it is outrageous. It should be condemned by anyone who has a moral sense of responsibility."

Image: Migrants queueing for processing at a point of entry in California (CBP)

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