Inhumane Migrant Holding Pen Closed After Complaints from Civil Rights Groups

Hundreds of migrants were held in temporary fencing underneath a Texas international bridge that connects El Paso with Ciudad Juarez. Following escalating media coverage and backlash from Civil Rights groups, the Trump administration shut down the outdoor enclosure, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called “an extreme and unprecedented assault on [migrants’] basic human rights.”

Several immigrants experienced harrowing conditions, including diseases and children being bruised due to the rugged, dirt ground they slept on. “They treated us like we are animals. They call us bodies,” a 31-year-old Honduran man who spent three and a half days under the bridge alongside his family told the Texas Monthly. He added that some pregnant women were sleeping on the floor, while parents gave their coats and thin Mylar blankets to keep their children warm.

Over the weekend, the ACLU Border Rights Center issued a complaint to officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regarding abusive treatment at the open-air detention center. Some reports showed that Patrol agents scattered the families to other locations ahead of a congressional visit to El Paso.

“Border Patrol’s detention of people in outdoor pens, forcing families and children to sleep in the dirt for days, is just the latest cruelty inflicted on asylum seekers by this administration,” Shaw Drake, policy counsel for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said in a statement “Our complaint documents abuses by Border Patrol in the outdoor caged areas. The DHS Inspector General must immediately investigate accounts of abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents and DHS must assure such detention conditions are never authorized again.”

A report from Vice found that migrants were relocated to a facility Border Patrol described as having “more space and more shelter capability.” The new holding area includes three large tents in a parking lot. Migrants argue that the new space is even more uncomfortable than staying under the bridge.

“When they took me out of the bridge, I thanked God because I thought I’d be going to a better place,” a man told the publication, adding that the new location is overcrowded with almost 1,500 people crammed into the tents. The complaint urges immediate action to ensure a thorough and transparent investigation into alleged abuses reported by former detainees. Among the allegations are open-air detention on nights when temperatures reached a low of 37 degrees with only thin Mylar sheets, as well as verbal abuse by Border Patrol agents, filthy restroom facilities, and a lack of adequate medical care, food, and water.

"These conditions are among the worst we've seen in recent history,” Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas, said in the same statement. “Locking up families with small children outside behind barbed wire fencing and forcing them to sleep in near-freezing temperatures is shocking even for an Administration that has consistently developed cruel and inhumane immigration policies. The real crisis we must confront is that of the Trump administration violating the rights of those seeking refuge in our country."

The news comes amid President Donald Trump’s threat to close the southern border, claiming that Mexico “is not doing enough” to stop Central Americans from crossing into the US. He also announced that his administration would stem financial aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review,, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.