MARFA, Texas (CN) – U.S. Customs and Border Protection says a new 2,500-person holding facility will open Friday in a remote corner of West Texas as the agency attempts to deal with what it calls an unprecedented influx of immigrants at the southern border.
The facility in Tornillo, Texas, will be located near the site of a now-shuttered “tent city” that housed thousands of immigrant kids in 2018, during the height of public outrage over the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
That facility for teens, which was operated by a contractor working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, closed in January.
The new facility will be designed to temporarily house adult immigrants, not families or kids, before they are turned over to immigration authorities, Customs and Border Protection said. The agency said the volume of immigrants arriving at the border is placing its existing facilities under a “severe strain.”
“This is a soft-sided structure for CBP, for single-adult aliens,” said agency spokesperson Roger Maier. “It’s holding-processing, it’s not a detention center.”
The planned opening of the Tornillo facility comes as the agency has expanded its capacity to house immigrants at other new locations in South Texas and Arizona. Officials said those two sites, each built with room for 500 people, were filled “within two days.”
“Unfortunately, we are filling these facilities as soon as they are constructed,” Border Patrol Division Chief Lloyd Easterling said in a statement.
The opening of the Tornillo facility follows reports in recent months of crowded, dire conditions inside Border Patrol lockups.
Last month, internal government inspectors released a report that outlined problems with “serious overcrowding and prolonged detention” in South Texas. Immigrants are supposed to be processed and moved out of holding facilities within 72 hours, but the inspectors found people were routinely being held longer than that.
The conditions have prompted multiple lawsuits.
“Creating more housing facilities may be a reaction to that, and trying to create better conditions for [immigrants],” said Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the University of Houston Law Center’s immigration clinic, though he stressed he’s not privy to internal government operations.
President Donald Trump signed a bill last month that includes billions in emergency funding to address the overcrowding issue, though some Democrats complained the measure didn’t go far enough.
“We’re going to try to turn [the immigrants] in 72 hours or less,” Maier, the CBP spokesperson, said of the new Tornillo facility. “Sometimes there’s choke points.”