What we know about undocumented migrants being housed underneath a bridge in El Paso
As the El Paso Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol continues to see a massive influx of undocumented migrants crossing the border, the agency has constructed a temporary camp under the city’s Paso Del Norte International Bridge to hold some of the migrants who are waiting to be processed.
Photos of the encampment show migrants milling around inside a makeshift shelter, surrounded by fencing and razor wire, that includes a large military tent. Border Patrol agents say it's a temporary solution made necessary by a recent surge. On Monday alone, agents in the sector apprehended more than 1,000 migrants, and the sector's 11 stations don't have adequate space to house that many people.
The enclosure is next to a satellite Border Patrol processing center located just east of the bridge.
On Thursday, The Texas Tribune asked El Paso Sector spokesman Agent Ramiro Cordero to explain how the temporary facility functions and why it was constructed. Below is an edited version of the interview.
Cordero: When illegal immigrants are apprehended, they are [usually] taken to the [processing center]. As people are being processed inside the facility and sent out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or wherever else they go, then more people are being brought in [from the camp] It’s just a transitional facility. Weeks ago, the community had issues that the [undocumented immigrants] were camping out outside on the levee road [south of the border fence]. They said we were leaving them there overnight. So we built the tent to keep people from the elements.
TT: How long are the people there?
Cordero: It could be a couple of hours, it could be 12 hours. During that time, they get blankets, food, bathroom facilities, water, snacks — they have it all there.
TT: Are people sleeping outside? Is there enough room in the tent to fit them all?
Cordero: If all of them wanted to sleep inside the tent, they would be able to. A lot of them choose not to for whatever reason.
TT: Do agents choose who stays under the bridge? Or does everybody that [eventually] gets processed in this station go there?
Cordero: The unaccompanied minors have other places to go to, so they are immediately separated from the group. But family units will go there for sure.
TT: So the unaccompanied minors won’t be under the bridge?
TT: There were some tweets and reports that said some people under the bridge said they have been there for two or three days. Is that possible because you said 12 hours or longer? What’s the maximum?
Cordero: So for example, let’s say you get picked up at 6 p.m. and you end up at the river’s edge waiting to be transported for a few hours. Then you end up at that [camp] the next morning maybe at 9 a.m. Then you don’t get processed because there is a bottleneck until the following day. Did you stay there overnight? Yes, you sure did. So a lot is just perspective. The sun went down, it came back up. So for them that’s two days.
TT: You said that as of 6 a.m. Wednesday that about 3,500 people were in Border Patrol custody in the El Paso Sector. Has that figure remained steady?
Cordero: This morning in custody, we had 3,369. The vast majority were at the El Paso station.