YUMA, AZ — The Border Patrol hopes a new Yuma Immigration holding facility lessens criticism of the agency's treatment of immigrants.
It has the look of a military camp in the desert. Inside, the tents are cool and there are refrigerators full of bottled water. There are cases of disinfectant, bags filled with toiletries, and a row of washers and dryers to clean clothes. Food will also be served.
The facility is a far cry from the Border Patrol's immigrant holding sites in El Paso and Clint, Texas. Attorneys who visited those facilities to meet with children came away with horror stories. The children had not bathed or brushed their teeth for weeks, had little to eat, slept on concrete floors, and in some cases, next to open toilets.
Asylum-seeking families who passed through holding facilities in Arizona seemed to have a better experience. Several told ABC15 they were uncomfortably cold, slept on the floor and couldn’t take a shower. The families did report having a supply of diapers for babies and some other hygiene supplies.
The Yuma sector has the third highest number of immigrant apprehensions along the southwest border - 60,000 since October.
The new facility has a capacity for 500 people. Most don't stay long. Three days is the average, but if a child is unaccompanied, the stay can be longer. "One of the things by law we can only turn an unaccompanied minor over to Health and Human Services. If HHS can't take the person from us we end up holding on to the person for longer than we should," Border Patrol Agent Anthony Porvaznik said.
But that may change. Arizona Congressman Tom O'Halleran (D-District 1) says the Bipartisan Humanitarian Aid Bill, which the President is expected to sign, allows churches and other immigration outreach groups who are helping place the immigrants with families in the U.S. take custody of the unaccompanied children to help speed up the reunification process.
The Border Patrol plans to open the facility Friday night.