U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told press on Sunday (March 31) that it will no longer detain Central American immigrants in a makeshift holding area surrounded by razor wire under a bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, with Juarez, Mexico, Time reports. The statement says migrants held under the Paso Del Norte International Bridge will be relocated immediately to a safer, more accommodating location.
CBP’s announcement comes after images of the holding area were shared on social media and in news reports this week, sparking outrage. According to The New York Times, customs agents apprehend roughly 570 migrants each day in the El Paso area, up from about 100 people detained per day five months ago. The increase has resulted in very little available space at processing facilities, The Times reports.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says it has received reports that agents are “verbally and physically” abusive toward migrants, and that some families have been held under the bridge for up to four days. Parents and their infant children were reportedly required to sleep on the ground without bedding.
Razor wire and shredded Mylar blankets — all that remains of the Border Patrol holding pen under the Paso del Norte bridge, where some migrants seeking asylum were kept for as long as four days. They slept on bare gravel and were provided only thin Mylar blankets for warmth. pic.twitter.com/aOpUJ9Q85V— Ryan Michalesko (@photosbylesko) March 31, 2019
According to The Guardian, the processing tent set up beneath the bridge wasn’t big enough and many of the migrants, most of whom are women and children, were forced to wait outside. A woman whom The Guardian calls “Maria” shared her experience under the bridge:
The hunger and the cold are the worst of it, Maria said. At night a cruel wind whips underneath the bridge, kicking up dust and stinging eyes and skin.
Maria and her son, who also asked to remain anonymous, fled Guatemala because of crime and the lack of jobs, she said. They paid $8,000 to coyotes to be taken north, the money raised from her extended family and by putting a lien on her home.
Once they got to the US border they were held under the bridge from Monday evening until Thursday afternoon. “We were hardly able to sleep, the earth was so hard, it was very tiring,” she said. “There were so many young babies crying, a lot of the children were sick with coughing, diarrhea, eye infections.”
“We were hungry all the time,” her son said. “They gave me a cold baloney sandwich at four in the morning, and then another cold baloney sandwich at 1 p.m., and that was it.”
The Times obtained a statement from CBP on Sunday (March 31) stating that the agency was in the process of relocating migrants “to a location with more space and more shelter capability.”