By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) – U.S. Border Patrol is considering another tent facility in Yuma, Arizona, after installing two in Texas, to cope with a surge in Central American migrants that has overwhelmed the agency.
Once one of the quietest sectors of the 2,000-mile U.S. Mexico border, Yuma now ranks third for apprehensions as smugglers guide record numbers of families and unaccompanied children under or over fences and across the Colorado River.
The “soft-sided” Yuma structure would follow similar so-called tent cities opened in El Paso and Donna, Texas, this month, each able to house 500 people overnight.
“Due to the sustained influx of migrants being apprehended in the Yuma sector, in excess of current capacity, the United States Border Patrol is exploring constructing a temporary soft-sided facility in Yuma, Arizona,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement on Friday.
Nearly half of migrants now arrested on the border are travelling with children, and agencies are struggling to hold families in stations built decades ago for single adults, Border Patrol chief Carla Provost told a Senate committee on May 8.
“We consider 4,000 detainees to be a high number of migrants in custody, and in the past had considered 6,000 detainees a crisis. In this fiscal year, CBP has already experienced more than 14,000 detainees in custody on a single day,” Provost said.
Reuters photos show that overcrowding has forced migrants outside a large processing centre in McAllen, Texas, to sleep on the ground.
The centre temporarily closed this week due to a flu outbreak and a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died on Monday after passing through the detention facility. He was the sixth Guatemalan child to die since September after being apprehended at the border.
The migrant influx at Yuma is part of a border-wide trend which saw immigration authorities arrest nearly 99,000 people in April, the highest figure since 2007.
To alleviate overcrowding, Border Patrol has released migrants directly into local communities like Yuma and Deming, New Mexico. Both cities have declared states of emergency to gain federal and state funds to cope with the influx.
(Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)