‘Grim sight’: Migrants await uncertain future at strained Border Patrol facility

 In Politics

McALLEN, Texas — Sitting on government-issued green mattresses and huddled under Mylar sheets, more than 1,100 migrants awaited an uncertain future at a U.S. Border Patrol facility here, where resources are strained by the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy toward people entering the U.S. illegally.

Although the facility hasn’t yet reached its capacity of 1,500, Border Patrol officials said the policy — which involves prosecuting everyone who crosses the border illegally — means the center is processing more court referrals for migrants than ever before. Some migrants’ paperwork is now being remotely processed by agents in other Texas cities.

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The family separations that stem from the Trump policy add a new burden. On top of overseeing the welfare of people housed there, staff at the McAllen facility coordinate sending children to detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement while their parents head to court. There are only 10 permanently assigned agents at the facility, though officials would not say how many contract or other staff were on site.

“It is a challenge to balance both operations out in the front lines and the processing part of our operations,” John Lopez, the center’s acting deputy patrol agent in charge, told reporters during a rare look inside the facility.

The Border Patrol opened its doors ahead of a visit by a half-dozen Democratic lawmakers who have decried the administration’s policy, which has drawn backlash recently amid highly publicized stories of families being separated after entering the U.S. illegally.

The lawmakers visited five government sites Sunday in hopes of drawing attention to the family separations issue. Reporters followed the group to each site but were only allowed to enter the McAllen facility, and they were given a briefing that was separate from the Democrats’ tour.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one member of the group, had previously tried to access a children’s facility in Brownsville, Texas, but was denied. A video of the encounter went viral.

The McAllen facility houses migrants and processes their cases before they are taken to court. That means it’s often the last point before families are split apart and children are sent to separate facilities run by the refugee resettlement office.

With public outrage mounting over the nearly 2,000 children separated since the “zero tolerance” policy began, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security, administration officials sought on Sunday to temper the politically poisonous portrayal of a heartless government tearing migrant families apart.

Lopez and other officials pointed out the more humane aspects of the migrants’ experience in processing: drinking water, hot meals, laundered mattresses. Mothers with children and unaccompanied minors have their own cells.

But inside the center, the grim reality of detained migrants’ future was palpable as they called out to reporters from inside metal pens. One mother, a 24-year-old named Dalia, said in Spanish that she and four-year-old son Cesar had left Honduras one month ago.

Another mother could only tearfully manage that she had brought one child with her, leaving the other back in Guatemala.

“It’s a pretty grim sight to see really good, young, healthy-looking kids with so much fear, so much anxiety, so much wonder of what is next,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told dozens of activists who held a vigil outside the center while the Democrats went inside.

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