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Government to build massive $192M migrant processing center in El Paso

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The Customs and Border Protection agency will soon be authorized to build a huge processing facility in El Paso, Texas that would be better equipped to hold migrant families.

In the bipartisan spending bill that President Donald Trump was set to sign on Friday, Congress allocated $192 million for the processing center.

Lawmakers explicitly said the facility must be outfitted with appropriate temperature controls, and must avoid the “chain-link fence-type enclosures” that have been criticized as “cages” in the past.

Read more: Obama officials rushed to explain photos from 2014 that went viral showing locked-up immigrant children — and Trump’s facilities look the same

In this photo provided by US Customs and Border Protection, people who’ve been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas on June 17, 2018.
Customs and Border Protection via Associated Press

The government’s current facilities aren’t equipped to process the families now crossing the border

The news comes in the wake of the deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody late last year. Immigration advocates and healthcare experts seized on the tiny cells inside holding facilities that migrants are usually detained in after their arrests as part of the reason they died.

The cramped facilities have long been criticized for freezing temperatures, overcrowding, and unhygienic conditions, and Trump administration officials have conceded that they were not designed to accommodate children.

Since the deaths of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, Democrats and immigration rights advocates have been demanding improved facilities at the border to accommodate the surge of migrant families seeking asylum in the US each month.

Read more: ‘We’ve seen this coming’: Why migrant children are dying in Border Patrol custody

The two children who died in Border Patrol custody, Felipe Gomez Alonzo and Jakelin Caal Maquin.
Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez; Catarina Gomez via Associated Press

Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat, told The Washington Post on Thursday that CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan discussed plans for a new facility with her last week that’s designed to hold up to 800 migrants at a time.

“It’s long overdue,” Escobar told The Post.

CBP did not immediately respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.

Congress’ statement about the bill said lawmakers “expect the new El Paso facility and renovations to the existing processing center in McAllen, Texas, will make them more appropriate for use as temporary holding sites for individuals in CBP custody, particularly families and unaccompanied children.”

Though border-crossing arrests remain at historic lows, the demographics of the migrants who are crossing has dramatically changed in recent years, posing new challenges for the agents who detain and process them.

Rather than the single adults who used to cross, Border Patrol has been encountering more and more Central American families with young children, who are uniquely vulnerable in custody.

“The government has known for almost five years that there are fewer and fewer Mexican single males coming across our border and more and more Central American families and unaccompanied minors fleeing Central America,” Escobar told The Post.

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