Tornillo, Texas - This week, journalists were allowed to go into a new tent facility designed to handle about 2,000 people. It's one of six built to help accommodate the massive influx of migrants arriving to the US-Mexico border this year.
The 197,000-square-foot facility in the West Texas desert, has separate giant white tent buildings for single adult female and male detainees.
Following historically high numbers of border crossings in the spring, Border Patrol needed to construct more facilities to handle the numbers of people flooding the United States southern border.
There were nearly 72,000 arrests made in July along the southern border, down about 24% from 94,908 in June, according to the latest Border Patrol data. Between October and April, the US Border Patrol apprehended 460,294 people for illegally crossing into the US from the southern border.
This week, journalists were allowed to go into a new facility. Unlike most previous tours of detention facilities, reporters were allowed to film inside. A handful of women and over a dozen men were sitting quietly on thin silver mats.
The migrants were from several countries including Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil. Some detainees were wearing their own clothes, while others wore blue sweatshirts with gray sweatpants provided by Border Patrol.
The detainees were mostly quiet and talked among themselves. They were using fabric blankets, not the Mylar blankets that have been seen in other detention centers.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, who was visiting the new facility, said that new temporary facilities like this one would help them prevent severe overcrowding.
At the peak in June, Border Patrol had nearly 20,000 people in custody, according to McAleenan. That has been reduced to roughly 4,500.
Congress passed a $4.6 billion emergency border funding bill at the end of June after months of pleading from Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Border Patrol and border facilities. "We have a dramatically improved situation," McAleenan said Thursday.
McAleenan said DHS has asked Congress for additional emergency supplemental funding to build a longer term facility for single adults. "Congress did give us the funding and that's why we built this temporary facility for single adults, because if we have another surge we are going to need this capacity to temporarily house single adults," he said. "We needed this funding, we needed to provide additional capacity to manage this flow."
A mix of National Guard and Border Patrol agents were watching the migrants from wooden-raised decks and monitoring surveillance footage from separate rooms.
There were water bottles and chips in every room, as well as portable toilets equipped with large holes at the top and bottom of the doors so officers can see detainees at all times.
The new facility has indoor shower facilities that are separate for female and male detainees.